International criticism is pouring into the Hungarian ministries nowadays. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, in addition to the United States government, have serious misgivings about the way the Orbán government is steering the ship of state. Viktor Orbán made up his mind, most likely a long time ago, that given the opportunity he would remake the country in his own image. The opportunity was given and a rapid-fire parliament passed law after law. Orbán wanted to make the transitional period as short as possible. By January 1, 2012 the Hungarian people and the international community were faced with a new Hungary. Even the colors of the ambulances were changed. Nothing could remain the same as before.
One of the new laws that the international community finds especially vexing is the media law. Politicians often have a rocky relationship with the media, but few are given the opportunity to enact a media law that would ensure the subjugation of the written and electronic media to government authorities. When the media law was released and criticisms started to pour in, the Hungarian government pointed to the same or very similar laws in other countries within the European Union.
In December 2010 and January 2011 the Orbán government released two statements summarizing the main criticisms of its new laws and providing examples of regulations from 20 European and EU-member states as precedents for Hungary’s media legislation. At this point the Center for Media and Communication Studies at the English-language Central European University located in Budapest commissioned media policy experts in each of these countries to examine every example cited by the Hungarian government.
While freedom of expression and the press are fundamental rights all over Europe there is no uniform model of media regulation within the European Union.The experts who contributed to the volume thus had to look at 56 media regulations that were cited by the Hungarian government as precedents for its new media laws. “The study found that Hungary’s media laws are largely inconsistent with the cited European practices and norms, based on an examination of the legal precedents provided and on the expert analyses of how these precedents are implemented in these European and EU-member countries.”
It turned out that in a majority of examples experts found that the Hungarian government omitted or inaccurately characterized other countries’ regulatory systems. In many cases the government accurately presented a portion of a legal provision or regulation, but the reference either omitted elements of the regulation or disregarded the means by which the regulation is implemented. All in all, “the study finds that the European media regulations cited by the Hungarian government do not serve as adequate precedents for Hungary’s new media laws.”
The list of the contributors is impressive. They all experts in the field and they all concentrate on the media laws of their own country. An absolutely sterling list of names. This was the volume Neelie Kroes’s study group relied on and this is the one Karola Kiricsics, who was labeled the female Péter Szijjártó and a full-fledged member of the “parrot commando” after her performance on ATV, had to attack somehow.
The colors are nice but the message is monotonous
Kiricsi’s first reaction to the renewed criticism of the media law was that the study is unreliable and its findings are wrong. The only proof she offered was an alleged error concerning the Media Authority’s right to fine media outlets. So, claimed Kiricsi, instead of relying on a study put together by a group of international experts, Neelie Kroes should have asked the Media Authority itself. They would have been glad to provide her with the “right” information. An interesting idea, and so typical.
The media law is just one of many on the table at the moment. Orbán is under siege from all directions. But as far as I can see, true to himself he remains a masterful schemer.
First, he decided to enter the “lions’ den” in Strasbourg because most likely he knew ahead of time that half of the lions would not be there. What do I mean by that? I suspect that Orbán knew before he decided to appear before the European Parliament that members of the Christian Democratic People’s Party would stand by him. This way Orbán could reinforce his earlier contention that the dispute between the Hungarian government and its critics is not really about democracy but about party politics. The socialists, the liberals, and the greens attack him and his government on ideological grounds.
Second, the mass demonstration for January 21, only three days before his meeting with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, was carefully planned. It was organized not only as a demonstration in support of the prime minister and his government but also as a proof of anti-European Union sentiments. A huge crowd demonstrated against the colonization attempts of Brussels. At least this is what the posters said. The gathering was meant to show Barroso and the Commission that they must handle Hungary with kid gloves because people’s sentiment is in favor of Hungarian sovereignty. The message was: Don’t push us too hard on our democracy deficits and don’t insist on changing our laws because we are ardent patriots who will defend our independence.
A Hungarian manipulator
Yes, this was the message and it wasn’t wasted on Brussels. And yet the European Union’s politicians shouldn’t be misled by a mass demonstration. Fidesz has a fantastic ability to bring large crowds out on the streets. This has been in the case ever since the spring of 2002. But the size of the crowd doesn’t change the facts: according to the latest statistics only 16-17% of the voting age population would vote for Fidesz. And there is another statistic that just came out. The great majority of Hungarians support Hungary’s membership in the European Union. Even half of the euroskeptic Jobbik voters. So kid gloves are unnecessary.