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Ten of thousands of people demonstrated against Hungarian government’s policies in Budapest on Sunday 23rd October (the 55th anniversary of the anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary) under the banner ‘I don’t like the regime’.

The rally was organised by the ‘One Million for the Freedom of Press’ facebook group and other civil society organisations. Speakers called for civil forces to unite and provide an alternative to the current political power, and for collaboration to re-establish the republic. To underline how essential a free press was in a democratic society, some fifty thousand press cards were given away to the demonstrators to make them ‘civil media contributors’. Earlier this year it passed a controversial law on the media, which was condemned by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and it is about to change the electoral system. “We have come together to show again after 55 years that we stand up for our rights, for democracy,” Peter Juhasz, spokesman for the organisers, told the demonstrators.

It is clear that what people cannot express through the media, they will express on the street. Dissatisfaction is growing in Hungary against the Fidesz party government led by prime minister Viktor Orban, which is using anti-democratic methods to cover up a wide range of government measures, from restrictive media polices to changes in the tax system hurting the poor. A spokesman said Hungary’s ‘alternative president’ will be elected at the next rally on 15 March 2012.

There are calls for the European Commission to take a stronger line about the lack of press freedom in Hungary and to persuade the Hungarian government to restore basic European values to the media. EU representatives are also being urged to set up a special body to lay-down, monitor and when necessary update minimum standards of press freedom in member states.

Meanwhile the European Federation of Journalists has issued a statement in support of the protest. “When media and journalists are put in a difficult situation, it is essential that journalists are supported by civil society groups. We are happy that demonstrations in Hungary also saw the need for free and democratic information”, said EFJ President Arne Konig. An international mission of professional organisations and civil society groups will go to Hungary on 14-16 November to assess the situation and make specific recommendations.

 Sources: Judit Acsay, PA and EFJ.