Parl c ttee says gov t proposal for media law package ready for debate
<p>Budapest, June 14 (MTI) - Hungary s parliamentary committee for culture and media on Monday approved a new media bill package submitted by the centre-right Fidesz government, readying it for parliamentary debate.</p>
The Association of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ), several media workers trade unions and a publishers association have asked Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a letter to postpone the debate to make room for consultations on the controversial package.
The main points of the package are 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.
The Media Council is to be appointed for a nine-year period and its head named by the prime minister. The Council s other members are nominated by a parliamentary committee so that the composition of the Council broadly reflects the weight of the parties in parliament.
The public-service foundation will draw up recommendations which can be vetoed by a five-member Governing Board.
The law package also seeks to convert Hungary s public media companies -- television networks MTV and Duna, Magyar Radio and news agency MTI -- into not-for-profit companies. The companies current supervisory boards are to be scrapped.
Contrary to earlier rumours, the media groups will not be merged.
The package containing amendments to the Constitution as well as a bill on new press freedom regulations was submitted by Fidesz politicians Andras Cser-Palkovics and Antal Rogan.
They have also proposed establishing a Public Service Code, to be observed by all public media directors. The Code s content is to be approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Cser-Palkovics said the package provided a framework for a new media law to be enacted later on.
The two Fidesz politicians said the centre-right government wants the public media to nurture Hungary s national and European identity, foster the Hungarian and ethnic-minority languages, and enrich the sense of national unity, as well as to strengthen families and fulfil the needs of religious communities.
Cser-Palkovics said at the committee meeting the package was expedited for two major reasons: MTV has debts of 6.5 billion forints (EUR 23m) and ORTT has been operating without a president. He insisted that the bills were a framework designed to aid the passing of a new media law later.
Socialist deputy Laszlo Mandur said the bills had been submitted too hastily and he criticised the lack of wider consultation. He dismissed Fidesz s explanation for expediting the process, which will end up transforming the entire public-service media.
Laszlo Majtenyi, former head of the ORTT, said the proposal is lacking concept and foundations as well as rules for adequate civil control. He called for more consultations on the package.
The parliamentary group leader of the green-liberal Politics Can Be Different party (LMP) described the package as "blood-curdling".
Gabor Karacsony said the proposal subordinates the public-service media to the government. He added that parts of the proposals would curtail press freedoms.