Fighting for freedom of expression in Hungary

Last week’s meeting of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) held in Brussels we spent some time discussing the situation in Hungary following the introduction of controversial new media laws, which will seriously restrict the right to report and media freedom. The legislation increases the state’s power to monitor the media, requiring media organisation and even bloggers to register with the authorities and introduces new requirements regarding so called ‘balanced reporting’. The protection of journalists’ sources is also threatened.

The new law has received widespread criticism both within and outside Hungary and the European Commission launched an initial investigation as a result of which it expressed “serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law” and asked the Hungarian government to provide further clarifications. The EFJ is in regular contact with Hungarian journalists, media unions and organisations in Hungary and representatives of European institutions. Ironically the introduction of this law coincided with Hungary’s six month presidency of the EU which started on 1 January.

The Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orbán came under attack when presenting the Hungarian Presidency’s priorities to the European Parliament on 19 January. He said that he was “ready to fight” to defend the legislation and called the criticism “an offence against the people of Hungary”, telling MEPs not to meddle in Hungary’s domestic politics. However, he did concede that it would be amended, if the Commission’s investigation concludes that it contravenes EU law.

On 27 January the third demonstration against the new media law took place in Budapest, following those on 20 December and 14 January. Parallel demonstrations were held in other major Hungarian cities – Pécs, Szeged, Debrecen (the second largest city in Hungary) and Gyula, as well as in Frankfurt, Germany. Nearly 10.000 people protested in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, demanding the freedom of press and the abolition of censorship.

Meanwhile I have put down a motion to next week’s NUJ NEC meeting in support of the action against the new laws and you can find out more about the campaign itself by going to the EFJ web site at: http://europe.ifj.org/en There is also an online petition which you can sign by going to the section ‘Hungary no to media law’ on the EFJ site.

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