Monday 27 December 2010

Blog Action against Hungarian Media Law has called for a Blog Action against the new media law that will come into force in Hungary on January 1st. Hungary will assume the rotating presidency of the Council for the next 6 months, and has set up a presidency blog, so it is a great time for the Euroblogosphere (and national blogospheres) to highlight the dangers to press freedom, and to push for the law's repeal.

You can find the OSCE's damning assessment of the legislation here: PDF.

OSCE Report:

"They will introduce a highly centralized governance and regulatory system, with many new and unnecessary bodies of oversight and supervision and with many decision-making processes involving a succession of inputs by disparate bodies – probably breeding conflicts and inefficiencies, but also multiplying opportunities for political control. The whole system may have a serious chilling effect on media freedom and independence ((by encouraging selfcensorship) and on the exercise of freedom of expression.


The new institutional framework may, if deliberately (mis)used for this purpose, create conditions for the realization of the “winner-takes-most” or indeed “winner-takes-all” scenario in the current term of Parliament, in defiance of the principle of the division of powers and of the checks and balances typical of liberal democracy. As such, the design of this framework runs directly counter to democratic standards in the field of media system organization and governance. Accordingly, this package, which exceeds what is justified and necessary in a democratic society, is cause for very serious concern."

The legislation covers traditional and internet media, though the OSCE report fears that the legislation is framed so all internet content could conceiveably be covered by the law. In any case, the law will change the media landscape in Hungary significantly, by bringing in content regulation where previously the content itself had been "virtually free" of, and which is "without precident in democratic countries" (page 6 of the report PDF). The legislation will set up a National Media and Telecommunications Authority, which the Hungarian government will be able to appoint officials to, and will oversee media (including group blogs) in Hungary, without the national parliament being able to form a adequate check on the government:

"...the manner of appointment of the Media Council Chairperson
amounts to nothing less than government capture of Parliament. Parliament is left no choice but to vote for the Prime Minister’s candidate. Moreover, should it fail to elect that person, its decision will be disregarded in the sense that the President would still chair meetings of the Media Council (with a voice, but not a vote) and the only option left to Parliament would be eventually to elect that same person to this position – or leave the position unfilled, thus considerably weakening the MC. This is very likely if the governing party/coalition does not have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Then, the solution designed to promote the development of consensus on the chairmanship of the MC could easily turn into an opportunity for obstruction by opposition parties."

Group blogs are another issue, as in Hungary group blogging is popular. As blogs can be fined if they are "edited" or written by several people, this could have a chilling effect on blogging in Hungary, where people are afraid of blogging together and risking suffering for what other people write. Mathew Lowry has written about this over on his blog.

I won't go into the law in greater detail (other blogs and the OSCE have done a good job - the OSCE Report is 57 pages long, after all!), but the vagueness of "appropriate" information, the vagueness of the idea of content and the political nature of appointments are a threat to freedom of the press and to blogging, so I would encourage everyone to join in with the Blogging Action, and raise awareness through blogs and Tweeting. Though the Presidency has argued that this is a purely national matter, and the presidency shouldn't be "hijacked" by it, but the freedom of the media is fundamental to democracy, and we should be concerned about such laws taking root in other countries. Not only is it a question of how we can ensure the same standards of rights, openness and democracy in Member States after they've joined the EU, but just as the presidency used the argument that none of the measures were not found in other Member States, tolerating the erosion of rights in one Member State makes it easier for such erosion to spread.


  1. It is very important to ensure that Hungary to change its attitude and to repeal the law of media.

  2. If you dropped your premeditated view and looked a bit closer you could have seen that the OSCE report dates from September 2010, while the law was finally adopted at the end of December 2010. It has been changed to a huge extent after the OSCE report (even though the law still has faults). What your blog shows is that you not only failed to read the law, but you also disregard obvious facts.

  3. @ Anonymous

    The OSCE issued a press statement heavily condemning the law, and highlighting again the wide scope of the regulator's powers (the "content" issue), and the registration issue - so at least two of the major points remain the case as of December 22nd.

    I have not been able to find indications that the law has been changed in line with OSCE recommendations, but the language barrier means that I could have missed it. If you've some sources backing up your claims, I'd be happy to correct my article.