VIENNA, 22 December 2010 – Hungary's new media law violates OSCE media freedom standards and endangers editorial independence and media pluralism, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said today.
“I am concerned that Hungary's parliament has adopted media legislation that, if misused, can silence critical media and public debate in the country,” Mijatovic said, referring to the "Law on media services and mass communication", adopted on 20 December.
“The law regulates all media content – broadcast, print and online – based on identical principles, which runs against OSCE standards on free media. It also gives unusually broad powers to the recently established media authority and media council, which are led exclusively by members supported by the governing party," Mijatovic said.
Traditionally, regulatory authorities govern broadcast media only, but the new law in Hungary empowers the authorities to also govern print and online media content.
"Such concentration of power in regulatory authorities is unprecedented in European democracies, and it harms media freedom," Mijatovic said. “Regulating print media can curb free public debate and pluralism. Even though regulating online media is considered technologically impossible, it introduces self-censorship.”
Mijatovic said that the law leaves numerous key terms undefined, such as the protection of public order, which, if violated, requires journalists to reveal their sources.
“In the absence of clearly defined guidelines, it is impossible for journalists to know when they are in breach of the law,” she said.
She also criticized a provision of the law that requires all media – broadcast, print and online – to be registered with the media authority; violations of many kinds, including unbalanced coverage, would be punishable by very high fines.
“The new system also endangers the political independence of public service media,” she said, adding that the governing party had nominated all new heads of public service media, and the media authority now controls the budget of all public service media.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media's office analyzed a draft of the law and warned Hungarian authorities more than five months ago of its shortcomings. In a report to the OSCE Permanent Council and in public statements, Mijatovic called on the authorities to halt this legislation and start public discussions to develop a media law in line with OSCE commitments.