VIENNA, 24 June 2010 - Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, appealed to the Hungarian Government today to halt draft media legislation that is to be voted on in Parliament next week, and to start public consultations involving professional stakeholders to modify the draft laws.
"The proposed laws are highly worrisome regarding media freedom in your country," the Representative wrote in a letter to Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi. "Their adoption could lead to all broadcasting being subordinated to political decisions."
The planned legislative changes aim at a comprehensive overhaul of the current media governance system. Under the new legislation, two new bodies would be created - the National Media and Telecommunications Authority and the Media Council, which will be the new licensing body supervising both private and public broadcasting.
The President of the Authority would be appointed by the Prime Minister, and the law envisages Parliament electing the same person as President of the Council. Direct parliamentary nomination of members of the media licensing body, the public-service broadcasting board and the executives of individual public service outlets - public TV, radio and the only national news agency - is foreseen by the new legislation.
The party in power has more than two-thirds of parliamentary seats. The adoption of the new legislation could lead to governmental control over both the private and the public-service broadcasters in Hungary, warned Mijatovic.
The media package was tabled in Parliament on 11 June, complemented by an amendment to the Constitution that authorizes these modifications. The Government plans to adopt these changes in an expedited procedure on 28 and 29 June. "This would leave no time for public debate, which is common international practice for such legislation and must involve the professional stakeholders in Hungary," Mijatovic wrote in her letter.
"Although the Government has the parliamentary power to change the Constitution and the laws regulating freedom of expression, it is very important that Governments do not use such power to weaken the guarantees of media freedom and subordinate the media to governmental control, and by doing so breach international and OSCE standards guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of the media," she added.
"A pluralistic governance system for broadcast media, involving key stakeholders and civil society, is a prerequisite for media pluralism, which is a basic OSCE media freedom commitment."
Mijatovic offered her Office's assistance in providing a detailed legal review of the media package.