The European Commission welcomed yesterday (16 February) the amendments that Hungary has pledged to make to its controversial media law, seeking to draw to a close an episode that has poisoned the beginning of the Hungarian EU Presidency. EURACTIV Hungary contributed to this article.
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said she was "very pleased" that the Hungarian authorities had agreed to change their media law in four areas, following a letter she sent to Budapest on 21 January.
He said the Commission would now closely monitor the adoption of these amendments and their subsequent implementation.
The four areas where Hungary agreed to change its media law are:
- The disproportionate application of rules regarding balanced information;
- The application of fines to broadcasters legally established and authorised in other EU countries;
- Rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers, and;
- Rules against offending individuals, minorities or majorities.
On balanced coverage, Hungarian authorities agreed they would no longer apply these requirements to on-demand media services, an obligation which was seen as disproportionate by the European Commission.
On country of origin, Budapest agreed that broadcasters legally established in other EU countries could no longer be fined for breaching the Hungarian media law's provisions on incitement to hatred.
On media registration, Budapest agreed that on-demand audiovisual media services established in Hungary and in other member states would no longer be subject to prior authorisation.
On causing offence, the agreed amendments limit the ban to situations of incitement to hatred or discrimination.
The fact that one controversial issue, political control over the country's media authority, had not been addressed was highlighted during a debate in the European Parliament yesterday (see 'Positions').
Hungarian opposition remains sceptical
Hungarian opposition parties voiced scepticism as to the changes and the way they were agreed.
They also argued that the issue of political control over the country's media authority had not been addressed.
Gergely Karácsony, deputy leader of the LMP (Greens) in the Hungarian parliament, said the media law would need to be defeated "three times".
"Firstly, by the resistance of journalists and civic society, secondly by the procedure of the European Commission based on European law, and thirdly by Hungary's Constitutional Court, because […] the law breaches the Hungarian constitution," he said.
Karácsony explained that the changes forced by the European Commission were important, but they did not touch upon the most important elements, because the underlying European directives did not cover those.
He pledged that the Greens would fight against the law with more substantial amending proposals in the Hungarian parliament and in the Constitutional Court. He also lamented the fact that the government had discussed the amendments "secretly" with the European Commission.
"The LMP would like to see a proper debate with Hungarian stakeholders, too," he said.