Media law – CoE Commissioner details concerns in opinion report

Brussels, February 25 (MTI) – Hungarian media must be able to perform their role as watchdog in a pluralistic democratic society, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe said in a statement on Friday.

The commissioner’s report on Hungary’s media legislation gives details of the main concerns over law regulations and it proposes an overall revision of the legislation.

    Hammarberg’s report says Hungary should use the Council of Europe’s standards to guarantee freedom of expression and media pluralism. It comes after the commissioner’s extensive discussions with Hungarian authorities in Budapest on January 27-28 this year about the contested legislation adopted between June and December last year.

    The report offers a more detailed explanation of the concerns in the light of Council of Europe standards. The commissioner makes several recommendations to the Hungarian authorities, including the “repeal or revision of a number of provisions” of the law. These include the establishment of subjective criteria relating to the information and coverage that media must provide, the sanctions for infringement of the law, and the registration requirements for print and online media.

    Further provisions in question include the protection of journalists’ sources, the appointment of officials to the media regulatory authority, appointments to the management of public broadcasting services and appeals against the decisions of the Media Council.

    The commissioner concluded that “the wide range of problematic provisions in Hungary’s media legislation coupled with their mutually reinforcing nature result in an unfortunate narrowing of the space in which the media can operate freely.”

    Hammarberg said he intends to continue his dialogue with the Hungarian authorities on these important issues.

    Hungary’s government submitted to parliament amendments to its contested media law on Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the European Commission. Under the agreed changes, on-demand audiovisual services such as blogs will no longer be required to follow the stipulation for balanced coverage. Registration for on-demand media services and print press outlets will no longer be a prerequisite for launching the business. On a further point, restrictions will not apply to media outlets located in another EU member state unless they were set up abroad with the intention to avoid being subject to Hungarian regulations.

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