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(Mar 16, 2011) Although the threat of the European Union taking legal action against Member State Hungary for its controversial new Media Law has subsided, the European Parliament passed a resolution on March 10, 2011, that criticizes the Law as well as certain aspects of the European Commission's role in helping Hungarian authorities ensure the Law's compliance with EU law.

Findings

The European Parliament Resolution of 10 March 2011 on Media Law in Hungary points out that "media pluralism and freedom continue to be matters of grave concern in the EU and its Member States, notably in Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Estonia." This was highlighted, the Resolution added, "by the recent criticism of the media law and constitutional changes enacted in Hungary between June and December 2010." (European Parliament Resolution of 10 March 2011 on Media Law in Hungary, European Parliament website (Mar. 10, 2011); see also Wendy Zeldin, Hungary: Controversial New Media Law Defended by Government, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 7, 2011).)

The Resolution noted that the European Commission had raised concerns and requested information from the Hungarian government on the conformity of the media law with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) (i.e., Directive 2010/13/EU of 10 March 2010 on the Coordination of Certain Provisions Laid Down by Law, Regulation or Administrative Action in Member States Concerning the Provision of Audiovisual Media services) and the acquis communautaire (the entire body of EU legislation) in general, and that the Hungarian government had responded by providing further information and by commencing the process of amending the Law to address the points raised. The Resolution pointed out the serious reservations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) regarding the new media legislation, and indicated that the European Parliament shared those concerns, most notably,

in relation to the politically homogeneous composition of the Media Authority and Media Council, the timeframe, the exertion of a pervasive and centralised governmental, judicial and political control over all media, the fact that the most problematic features of the legislation contravene OSCE and international standards on freedom of expression, for example by doing away with the political and financial independence of public-service media, the scope of the regulation (material and territorial), and the decision not to define key terms, making it impossible for journalists to know when they may be breaking the law… . (Id.)

The Resolution also makes reference to the criticism of the Media Law presented to Hungarian authorities by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and to the Commissioner's second opinion issued on February 25, 2011, recommending "a wholesale review" of the Hungarian media law package. The Resolution goes on to state: "the Hungarian media law should consequently be suspended as a matter of urgency and reviewed on the basis of the Commission's, OSCE's and Council of Europe's comments and proposals," to ensure that it fully conforms to "EU law and European values and standards on media freedom, pluralism and independent media governance." (Id.)

Recommendations

The European Parliament calls on the Hungarian authorities to, among other measures:

  • "restore the independence of media governance in the country and halt state interference with freedom of expression and 'balanced coverage'";
  • involve all stakeholders in the revision of the Media Law and of the Constitution; and
  • review the Media Law further based on the comments and proposals made by the European Parliament, the Commission, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. If the Media Law is found to be incompatible with the letter or spirit of the treaties or EU law, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, or the European Convention on Human Rights, the Resolution calls upon Hungary to repeal the Media Law and not to apply it or those portions of it found to be incompatible. (Id.)

While welcoming the European Commission's role in helping Hungarian authorities to bring the Media Law into conformity with EU treaties and law and initiation of the Law's amendment process at the national level, the European Parliament:

  • "[d]eplores the Commission's decision to target only three points in connection with the implementation of the acquis communautaire by Hungary and the lack of any reference to Article 30 of the AVMSD," which has the effect, the Resolution states, of limiting the Commission's competence to scrutinize Hungary's compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights in implementing EU law;
  • urges the Commission to examine Hungary's compliance with the liability arrangements laid down in the EU Directive on electronic commerce and Hungary's transposition of certain EU framework decisions on racism, xenophobia, and terrorism, "which include references to freedom of expression and circumventions of the rules on media freedom";
  • calls on the Commission to continue to closely monitor and assess the conformity of Hungarian media law to European legislation, in particular the Charter on Fundamental Rights; and
  • urges the Commission to propose before year's end a legislative initiative, pursuant to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, on media freedom, pluralism, and independent governance, to overcome "the inadequacies of the EU's legislative framework on the media" and define "at least the minimum essential standards that all Member States must meet and respect in national legislation" on freedom of information and the media. (Id.)

Other Views

Not all Members of the European Parliament agreed with the Resolution. According to MEP Simon Busuttil (Malta), European People's Party Group Coordinator on the parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, the document "is pointless and only serves political purposes" and it "ignores the fact that the Hungarian government has acted in line with the European Commission's proposals and that the Hungarian media law is fully in line with all EU laws, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights." (European Parliament Resolution on Hungarian Media Law Pointless, Maltese MEP Says, POLITICS.HU (Mar. 14, 2011).) He further stated that Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for Digital Agenda, "has confirmed that the amended legislation is in line with European laws, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights." (Id.)

News reports have pointed out that the controversy over the Media Law has cast a shadow over Hungary's six-month term of the EU presidency, its first ever. (Jonathan Marcus, Media Row Overshadows Hungary EU Presidency, BBC NEWS (Jan. 7, 2011).)

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

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Last updated: 03/16/2011