Hungarian Parliament passes amendments to controversial media law
Judit Bayer: Amendments do not eliminate harmful effect of Hungarian media law
17 Mar 11

Judit Bayer says Hungary’s amendments to media law do not completely eliminate harmful effect of its provisions

Last week the Hungarian Parliament passed amendments to its controversial new media law as agreed with the European Commission, following widespread concern about the legislation’s attack on press freedom and democracy.

The amendments affect four areas of the regulation: the obligation of balanced coverage; the prohibition to openly or covertly defaming any community; the possibility of imposing fine on media service providers that are settled outside of Hungary; and the obligation of registration that is imposed on all media, including printed and online press.

These amendments decrease the harmful effect of the listed provisions, but do not eliminate them completely. The obligation of balanced coverage remained, but is a little more blurred so that it cannot be applied against printed press. The prohibition to incite hatred or social exclusion against any community (including the majority) remain, only the most wide – “defaming” – is deleted.

It is still possible to impose fines on foreign media service providers, if they had settled abroad with the primary reason to evade the Hungarian law; and apply other sanctions against them in other cases (obligation to publish a statement, or suspend operation). Registration is still compulsory, but not in advance, only after starting publication.  Violating any rule on registration, however, may entail a fine of HUF one million (approximately EUR 3700).

The changes are important, but not key areas of the legislation, which can be further criticised at several other points: treating the printed and online press under the same content rules as television or radio, a too wide investigative power of the authority, too high fines, a media commissioner that may investigate even if the media provider had not violated the law; the protection of any community, including majorities from inciting hatred or social exclusion.

It should be noted that the much criticised composition of the Media Council is not the sole fault of the law – the governmental party Fidesz exploited its qualified majority.

Judit Bayer (PhD) is associate professor of media law at King Sigismund College, Budapest. Her research area is new media content regulation and freedom of expression. She published two books on internet regulation and one on public service television. Links: /