Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

#WeAreHere: "Ghost" Soldiers of the Somme

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Liberia UNMIL mission: UN to hand security control to government

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Chaos and confusion after Brexit, Istanbul Airport attack (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Bitter Divorce: Chaos and confusion after Brexit (part 1)

Read more

DOWN TO EARTH

Extinction crisis: Saving the planet's species from an irreversible fate

Read more

#THE 51%

Unlocking the code: Women refugees offered classes in coding

Read more

#TECH 24

Viva Technology!

Read more

ENCORE!

Marcia Gay Harden, a down-to-earth Hollywood star

Read more

YOU ARE HERE

France’s Camargue region and its herdsmen

Read more

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

FOCUS

FOCUS

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

2016-07-01 Taiwan

The steady rise of women in Taiwanese politics

Back in January, Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen as its first ever female president. But that result wasn't a complete surprise, as women have been making great strides in the...

Read more

2016-06-30 USA

Zika virus spreading fast across Puerto Rico

Last week, the World Health Organization made a move which will have enormous social implications for the countries hardest hit by the Zika virus. It recommended that millions...

Read more

2016-06-29 Bolivia

Will Bolivia see a lithium boom?

One of the poorest South American countries is hoping to raise its fortunes. With the world's largest lithium reserves, Bolivia aims to become a top producer of the precious...

Read more

2016-06-28 France

France struggling to recruit prison imams

In today's edition we meet with a Muslim prison chaplain, an imam who visits French prisons in an effort to shield inmates from radical Islamism. Many observers accuse the...

Read more

2016-06-27 India

Drug dealers of hope: Activists fight for access to life-saving Hepatitis C cure

Hepatitis C, a liver disease, causes approximately 500,000 deaths every year. Luckily, there is a miracle cure patented by the American pharmaceutical giant Gilead. But for most...

Read more