THE PRIME minister of EU presidency-holder Hungary has said his country will not be “dictated to” by Brussels, after fresh criticism that he has failed to ensure media freedom will be protected under a controversial new law.
At least 10,000 people rallied in Budapest on Tuesday evening to demand the tough new legislation be scrapped or completely overhauled amid fears it will give the government of populist premier Viktor Orban a dangerous degree of control over all Hungarian media outlets.
After Hungary reluctantly agreed to make some “technical” alterations to the law, the EU said it was satisfied but would closely monitor implementation of the new rules. Critics insist more fundamental changes are needed to bring the law into line with democratic norms, however.
“The legislation can still be misused to curb alternative and differing voices in Hungary,” said Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom chief at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
“Several problems remain: the law vests unusually broad powers in the politically homogeneous Media Authority and Media Council, enabling them to control content of all media,” she pointed out. “The legislation regulates broadcast, print and online media content based on identical principles. It leaves key terms undefined. It requires all media to be registered with the Media Authority. It punishes violations with high fines. It fails to guarantee the political independence of public service media.”
At Tuesday’s protest, the main speaker was Polish newspaper editor and former dissident Adam Michnik, an ally of Mr Orban when he opposed the communist authorities. “We have to defend our hard-fought freedoms,” Mr Michnik said. “There is no place for censorship in this system.”
Mr Orban, whose Fidesz party has concentrated enormous power in its hands since securing a landslide election victory last year, said Hungary would not bow to foreign pressure on any front.
Speaking on the anniversary of the Hungarian uprising against the Austrian Habsburgs in 1848, he invoked the spirit of defiance shown then and in the 1956 revolt against Soviet domination, and again in 1990, when Soviet troops finally left the country after the collapse of communism.
“We did not tolerate being dictated to from Vienna in 1848 nor from Moscow in 1956 and 1990,” Mr Orban said. “Now we’re not going to allow ourselves to be dictated to by anyone from Brussels or anywhere else.”