European Parliament group says Hungarian media laws needs more changes

Despite the changes that have been made since its adoption, the 2010 Hungarian media laws still have major flaws and need further amendment, according to a January 17 working document that was discussed in a January 21 meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in Brussels.

Working Document 3 on the situation of Fundamental Rights: standards and practices in Hungary – Media legislation,” prepared under the direction of Portuguese Green Party member Rui Tavares, takes note of the many EU-level criticisms of the Hungarian media laws, including studies and statements by the Council of Europe and European Parliament. While Hungarian officials have made some changes to the laws, these amendments are insufficient, according to this analysis, which calls for more sweeping changes to the legislation.

In particular, this analysis finds the appointment procedures for the president of the Media Authority (NMHH) and the chairperson of the Media Council to be problematic: “In order to avoid having a negative impact on media freedom the governance of the regulatory system has to guarantee accountability and independence from political interference. Further changes are recommended to the Hungarian government in the matter of appointments of regulators. Regulatory authorities should also be transparent and accountable and enjoy a funding scheme that allows them to carry out their functions fully and independently.”

The document raises the concern that Hungary’s media regulators can have undue influence on news content: “Provisions on content requirements and the requirement of balanced coverage could lead to arbitrary interpretations and restrict the free dissemination of information and opinions through media.”

This analysis also found that that financial and editorial independence of the public media is not guaranteed: “The provisions governing the structure, management, and editorial oversight of Hungary’s public broadcasters and their funding mechanism could also have a significant impact on pluralism and content.” Hungary’s public media are managed by a body that is directly overseen by the Media Council.