Friday 31 December 2010

EPP President defends Hungarian Media Law

The centre-right European People's Party (the biggest in the European Parliament), or specifically its President, Wilfried Martins, has defended the new Hungarian Media Law, which blogs, including this one, are against due to the chilling effect it will have on press freedom. In the absence of any other EPP comment on the subject, it seems like it's the current EPP position.

Martins said:

""I appreciate the efforts of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government to improve the former Hungarian media law with the aim to strengthen the freedom of the press, the culture of respect, the protection of minors and human dignity. I also understand the challenge of strengthening media accountability, while keeping media freedom intact. Discussion on the Hungarian media law should not be based on the politicaly motivated misinterpretations, but on the exact knowledge of the text.""

By politically motivated misinterpretations, I suppose he's referring to the outburst of fellow party member and Luxembourgish Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn who condemned the laws, saying: "It's a direct danger for democracy".

Or perhaps the OSCE, which produced a damning report on the law in September (PDF), and is still talking about it in strong terms:

""I am concerned that Hungary's parliament has adopted media legislation that, if misused, can silence critical media and public debate in the country," Mijatovic [OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media] said, referring to the "Law on media services and mass communication", adopted on 20 December.

"The law regulates all media content - broadcast, print and online - based on identical principles, which runs against OSCE standards on free media. It also gives unusually broad powers to the recently established media authority and media council, which are led exclusively by members supported by the governing party," Mijatovic said.

Traditionally, regulatory authorities govern broadcast media only, but the new law in Hungary empowers the authorities to also govern print and online media content.

"Such concentration of power in regulatory authorities is unprecedented in European democracies, and it harms media freedom," Mijatovic said. "Regulating print media can curb free public debate and pluralism. Even though regulating online media is considered technologically impossible, it introduces self-censorship.""

So far, two other European parties have commented: the Liberals (ALDE), and the European Greens. The Liberals are calling for the Commission to take (as yet undefined) action, and the European Greens want Article 7 TEU to be used against Hungary (the article is the mechanism for dealing with EU Member States who breach the fundamental values of the Union). Scope for EU action on the subject is somewhat limited, but it is hard to see this nuclear option succeeding against Hungary, particularly when it holds the rotating presidency. Article 7, does, however, mean that the EP could try to apply political pressure through its resolutions or even trying to start the Article 7 procedure.

Martins also stated the EPP's support for the Hungarian Presidency (Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungary, is an EPP member):

""I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a successful EU Presidency. Needless to say, for the next six months PM Orban can rely on the full support of the EPP," Martens added."

In this Parliamentary term the EPP have definitely been the "government party", supporting the positions of the (EPP-dominated) Council and Commission. It's a pity that the governing party and opposition aren't being tested properly on their records, particularly as EP votes and support are key to getting proposals through...

[Also, see Deutsche Welle for a broader view of the prospective Hungarian Presidency].

Note: Post edited the same day, thanks to Cédric picking up on an Article 7-related mistake.


  1. Good article, but 2 remarks:

    - Article 7 of TEU is not a creation of the Lisbon Treaty: it dates back to the Amsterdam treaty (for § 2 to 5), whereas its §1 was inserted by the Nice treaty. So the EU has made no use of this article despite the many breaches to basic democratic principles we've experienced for 12 years.

    - As to the “need” for a clearer procedure and guidelines: No. Just read the article, it describes a very precise and clear procedure. We don't lack clear guidelines to apply it. What we lack is political will, courage, or simply a bit less cynic EU institutions.

  2. [!!!]

    You're right - big slip up by me! I published too quickly without editing. I'll edit it now.