Josef hírek

2010.06.20. 12:50

Opposition parties strongly criticise media bill in heated debate

<p>Budapest, June 15 (MTI) - Hungary s Fidesz centre-right governing party defended a new media bill package strongly criticised by opposition parties in a parliamentary debate.</p>

Opposition parties on Monday submitted 44 amendments. Only one of them -- on tightening up the wording of the document, submitted by radical nationalist party Jobbik -- was accepted by the parliamentary majority.

    The Fidesz-Christian-Democratic alliance holds the two-thirds of parliamentary mandates needed to change the current outdated media law enacted in 1996.

    Fidesz deputies insisted in a debate late on Monday that the aim of the package was to reform "the currently dysfunctional public-service media sector". One of the proponents of the bills, Andras Cser-Palkovics, argued that the public media sphere would be cheaper to operate than at present, as well as being more transparent.

    Hungary s current system for regulating public media is widely seen as unwieldy and opaque. Several efforts have been made by successive governments to update the 1996 Act which is regarded as flawed, since it created a large, fragmented and bureaucratic supervisory structure. The individual boards overseeing each section of the media are appointed by parliament, so in effect their members are political delegates. Because the parties were unable to agree -- and since the law needs a two-thirds majority for approval -- efforts aimed at improving the law foundered.

     The urgent problem is that, under the current law, delegates are nominated by the parties in parliament on a parity basis. Now that old parties such as the Free Democrats and the Democratic Forum no longer have parliamentary mandates -- their delegates have fixed terms -- while new parties have taken up seats in parliament and do not as yet have delegates, it would be immensely difficult to set up new boards under the old system: the governing parties would need a huge number of delegates to offset the any new ones.

    Opposition politicians said, however, that the system proposed would concentrate power over the media in the government s hands.

    Most of the amendments put forward by the Socialists, Politics Can Be Different and Jobbik concerned the public-service supervisory system.

    Journalists union MUOSZ and representatives of the press industry on Monday turned to the prime minister asking for more consultations on the controversial package which seeks to streamline the supervisory structure of public-service media by merging telecom authority NHH and media watchdog ORTT into a powerful five-member body called the Media Council while creating a separate 12-member public-service foundation comprising representatives of social groups and institutions such as the Academy of Sciences and the churches to replace the individual supervisory boards.

    The package also provides for the establishment of an asset management body to support broadcasting and to manage assets related to public media. The public media companies themselves -- television networks MTV and Duna, Magyar Radio and news agency MTI - are to be converted into not-for-profit companies.

Istvan Palffy, of the governing Christian Democrats, said that civil control would be exerted through the supervisory boards and that a new code for public-service media, to be observed by all institutions involved, would strengthen freedom of the press.

    Laszlo Mandur, of the main opposition Socialist party, said however that the new structure would give the government overweening political leverage, given that the Media Council will have a nine-year mandate and its head is to be named by the prime minister. He said that the composition of the supervisory bodies would be unconstitutional, since the plan envisaged the government and opposition delegating two members each.

    "Everyone knows that there are three opposition parties," Mandur said, adding that if parties were unable to agree on members, the boards could be forced to operate below their full capacity.

    Mandur said that the plan to merge the supervision of public media companies with different profiles, such as MTI, was questionable. He cited this as another example of excessive political control. He said merging control over MTI with the rest of the system was a convenient way of placing the company under government control.

    Lajos Posze, of the radical nationalist Jobbik party, underlined the criticism that power would end up being concentrated in the government s hands.

Gergely Karacsony, parliamentary group leader for the green-liberal Politics Can Be Different party, said that the package had serious shortcomings, among them the fact that the concept of public service-the bill s core content-had not been properly defined.

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