Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Trump will still tweet from personal Twitter account as President

Read more

FRENCH CONNECTIONS

Population studies: France's 'ethnicity' taboo

Read more

THE DEBATE

Brexit's Biggest Fan: Trump weighs in ahead of Theresa May speech (Part 1)

Read more

THE DEBATE

Brexit's Biggest Fan: Trump weighs in ahead of Theresa May speech (Part 2)

Read more

ENCORE!

Posy Simmonds: 'French women have good handbags, English women have udders'

Read more

FOCUS

Security stepped up in Italy amid terror threat

Read more

ENCORE!

Music producer Uppermost: From the courthouse to the club

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

Bulgarian president-elect hopes for lifting of Russia sanctions

Read more

TALKING EUROPE

30 years of Erasmus: Financing fun or funding employment?

Read more

FOCUS

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2011-03-23

The beginning of the end for press freedom?

Hungary has only just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, but Budapest's leadership has already been overshadowed by doubts over Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. He's introduced a new media law with tough penalties for vaguely-worded offences such as "unbalanced coverage". Hungarian newspapers have said it signals the end of freedom of the press.

Hungary holds the EU's rotating presidency until 1 July 2011, with the euro on the ropes and such hefty items on the agenda as the amendment of the Lisbon treaty. But all that has so far been overshadowed by doubts over Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself: is he just a little too power-hungry?

What drew international attention to Orbán's mode of governance was a new media law that came into force on January 1st. It provides tough penalties for vaguely-worded offences such as "unbalanced coverage", and is to be administered by a body whose members are appointed by the government for whopping nine-year tenures.

As Hungarian newspapers decried the "end of freedom of the press", European politicians and leading lights of the anti-communist movement such as former Czech president Vaclav Havel and Poland's Adam Michnik also raised the alarm.

And the media law is just one of the worries. Since taking office last spring, Orbán's coalition has used its two-thirds majority in parliament to change the constitution ten times, limiting the powers of the constitutional court to challenge the unorthodox economic policies Hungary is pushing through (another source of controversy at the EU level) and stuffing almost all key positions, from the national president on down, with party loyalists.

It prompted distinguished economist János Kornai to write, in the left-leaning daily Népszabadság, that Hungary is no longer a democracy, but an autocracy.

Orbán takes offence at such allegations. After all, he too was a leading light of the movement for freedom and democracy in Central Europe, twenty years ago. Yet former companions such as Peter Molnar say he's changed. As an MP from 1990 to 1998, Molnar co-wrote post-communist Hungary's first ever media law. More recently, he's stepped back from politics and written a play entitled "Anxiety Ltd.": a title he says reflects the mood of the times in two ways: because of the anxiety Hungarian intellectuals feel about Fidesz's authoritarian drift, and because of the source of that drift in Orbán, and his allies' own anxiety.

For although Molnar unreservedly condemns the media law that replaces the one he worked on, he points out that Hungary's European partners are not blameless in this area either. Orbán has said that if the Commission asks Hungary to modify the new law (which it might), other European countries should have to change theirs, too. "This is a tricksy argument", Molnar says, but not entirely a false one, since many of the elements in Hungary's new law can be found in other countries' legislation - just not all of them at once.

What particularly worries him is the fact that the new law covers a substantial portion of internet content. And the groundwork for that, he says, was laid by the EU's 2007 Audiovisual Media Services Directive. "The directive is not an excuse for what the Hungarian government is doing in extending TV regulation to the whole media, but we have to look at the directive critically, because EU regulation can provide a reference point for all sorts of governments to say 'we are just doing the same' when they want to restrict freedom of information".

 

Programme prepared by Kate Williams, Marie Billon and Patrick Lovett

By Gulliver CRAGG

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2017-01-16 Europe

Security stepped up in Italy amid terror threat

Is Italy becoming a jihadist hub? The Berlin Christmas market attacker, Anis Amri, is believed to have been radicalised in prison there. And when a routine police stop led to...

Read more

2017-01-13 Asia-pacific

Is India's digital revolution disconnected from reality?

In November 2016, India's government shocked the country when it announced that a massive 85% of banknotes were no longer legal tender. The move, championed by Prime Minister...

Read more

2017-01-12 Europe

In newly retaken town, Ukrainian troops try to win local support

In eastern Ukraine, the de facto border separating the government-controlled west from the separatist-held east has barely moved in two years of conflict. But that doesn't mean...

Read more

2017-01-11 Americas

'Made In America': US firms move jobs back home

It was one of President-elect Donald Trump's main campaign promises: to bring back manufacturing jobs that American firms have outsourced abroad. Yet several major US companies,...

Read more

2017-01-10 Africa

Sudan's forgotten war: Civilians caught in the crossfire in Nuba Mountains

Over the past five years, human rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed in fighting in the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan. Rebel groups there have clashed with...

Read more