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(Jan 07, 2011) Hungary's Parliament passed a new media law on December 20, 2010, that has been harshly criticized by members of the country's media, other European governments, and the intergovernmental Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The law entered into force on January 1, 2011, the same day on which Hungary assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union. (Jaclyn Belczyk, Hungary Defends Controversial Media Law in Face of EU Criticism, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Jan. 4, 2011), http://jurist.org/paperchase/2011/01/hungary-defends-controversial-media
-law-in-face-of-eu-criticism.php
; Front-Page Protests at Hungary's New Media Law Which Threatens Fines for 'Unbalanced Coverage,' MAIL ONLINE (Jan. 4, 2011), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344032/Front-page-protests-Hung
ary-media-law-threatens-fines-unbalanced-coverage.html#ixzz1ALkazEMs
.)

Act 185 of 2010 on Media Services and Mass Media creates the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (Nemzeti Média- és Hírközlési Hatóság, NMHH), to oversee all public news production; that is, "private television and radio broadcasters, newspapers and online news sites." (Belczyk, supra.) The functions of the NMHH, and of its three component entities (the president, the Media Council, and the Bureau of the NMHH) are covered under chapter 1 of Part Four of the Act, on supervision of media services and press products (arts. 109-202). (Act CLXXXV of 2010 on Media Services and Mass Media [in English], NMHH website, http://www.nmhh.hu/dokumentum.php?cid=25694 (last visited Jan. 7, 2011).)

The five-member Media Council "is an independent body of the Authority reporting to Parliament and possessing the status of a legal person. The Media Council is the legal successor of the National Radio and Television Commission" (id. art. 123(1)). The President and four members of the Media Council are elected by Parliament, with a two-thirds majority of the votes of the members in attendance, for a term of nine years (id. art. 124(1)).

Article 182 of the Act sets forth the scope of responsibilities and competence of the Media Council. It would appear to have the power to determine, for example, whether certain media coverage is unbalanced or what constitutes an event of considerable importance to Hungarian society for purposes of media coverage and to rein in self-regulatory bodies if necessary:

Acting in its capacity as an Authority, the Media Council — in accordance with Article 132 [on the responsibilities of the Media Council]:

(u) shall proceed in relation to complaints on imbalanced communication that may arise in media services provided by media service providers with significant powers of influence and by public service broadcasters (under article 13 (2) of the Press and Media Act and Article 12 of this Act);

(v) shall define events with high importance for the society under its official decision;

(y) shall perform its tasks in its capacity as an authority related to the actions and decisions of self-regulatory bodies; … . (Id. art. 182.)

The Act also proscribes certain types of commercials; for example, those that "infringe upon human dignity"; contain or support discrimination on grounds of gender, racial or ethnic origin, nationality, among other grounds; or directly invite minors to purchase a certain product (id. art. 24(1)). Restrictions on advertisements for alcohol are separately enumerated (id. art. 24(2)).

In cases of infringement of regulations on media administration, the Media Council has the right to impose fines and other punitive measures (e.g., suspension of service, termination of contract) on the infringer (arts. 185-187). The limits on fines for infringement are set as follows:

  • for media service providers that fall under the regulations on limitation of media market concentration, up to HUF200 million (roughly US$950,000);
  • for a media service provider beyond the scope of the above item, up to HUF50 million;
  • for a newspaper of nationwide distribution or for an online media product, up to HUF25 million;
  • for a weekly periodical of nationwide distribution, up to HUF10 million;
  • for other newspaper or weekly newspaper or periodical or for a broadcaster, up to HUF5 million; and
  • for an intermediary service provider, up to HUF3 million. (Id. art. 187.)

Critics of the Act have characterized it as "heavy-handed" and charged that it fails to clearly set forth what news outlets have to do to comply with its provisions. (Marton Dunai & Andreas Rinke, Hungary Passes Law Boosting Government Control of Media, REUTERS (Dec. 21, 2010), http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6BK6KF20101221.) In addition, the Act's detractors have asserted, the NMHH will be dominated by appointees of the ruling Fidesz party, which holds a parliamentary majority. The critics also contend that under the Act's provisions, "[j]ournalists can be forced to identify their sources and the right to secrecy will only be upheld if it is in the public interest. There will be also be limits on 'crime-related news.'" (MAIL ONLINE, supra.) In the view of the OSCE, the new law "severely restricted print and online media, which runs counter to OSCE standards." (Dunai & Rinke, supra.)

The European Commission had requested more information on the law to determine whether it complies with European Union law, and on January 4, 2011, the Hungarian Justice Ministry sent that body an English translation of the Act. However, a Hungarian news portal reported on the following day that the translation was not complete and that "several crucial sections are missing, such as the one that lists the regulations that have changed due to new act" (e.g., an amendment to a 2007 law on digital switchover), and "sections on temporary regulations, including the one that stipulates that the new media authority may launch proceedings against offenders only for violations of the new act committed after 1 July 2011, i.e. when Hungary's EU presidency expires." (Hungary Sends EU English Translation of Media Act, with Sections Missing, PORTFOLIO.HU (Jan. 5, 2011), http://www.portfolio.hu/en/cikkek.tdp?k=2&i=21514.)

A government statement reportedly explained that "only the most essential part of the law" was translated; that the temporary measures' sections were omitted as unnecessary for understanding the law; and that a translation of each of the missing sections is underway and upon completion will be provided to the European Commission. (Id.)

Author: Wendy Zeldin More by this author
Topic: Freedom of the press More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Hungary More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 01/07/2011