PM taps right-wing media lawyer to head Media Authority

Leaders from across the political spectrum have denounced Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nominee for president of Hungary’s Media Authority as a  loyal puppet controlled by the ruling Fidesz party and its inner circle of media and business oligarchs. Orbán on Wednesday nominated right-wing media lawyer Monika Karas to serve as successor of recently deceased Annamária Szalai as head of Hungary’s Media Authority (NHMM). Karas has served as legal counsel for Government-linked media outlets Lánchíd Rádió, Magyar Nemzet, and HirTV, and for numerous Fidesz officials, including the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Árpád Habony. From 1993 to 2002, Karas represented Magyar Fórum Kiadó, a publisher which was at the time owned by far-right politician and anti-Semitic writer István Csurka.

Opposition party leaders and Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party have expressed outrage over Orbán’s selection and are calling on President Janos Ader to reject Karas’s nomination. Under the newly amended NMHH appointment procedures negotiated by the Council of Europe in January 2013, the president of Hungary appoints the head of the Media Authority based on the nomination of the prime minister. The Council of Europe’s Secretary Thorbjorn Jagland stated at the time that the amended procedures were meant to increase the independence of Hungary’s Media Council and to bring the appointment methods in line with “a normal standard for a European body.”

In reaction to Wednesday’s announcement, Democratic Coalition MP Csaba Molnár said Orbán had nominated “Fidesz’s in-house lawyer” rather than an independent expert. Socialist Party MP Ildikó Lendvai claimed that the nomination is proof that the Fidesz media policy has not changed despite domestic protests and promises made to the EU, as Orbán has nominated an “obedient executor of his will.” Lendvai added that Karas is a government puppet who serves the lawyer for the Fidesz media conglomerate. Jobbik party also said that Karas serves as the lawyer for “Fidesz oligarchs” and is unsuitable for the position.

Karas served as legal counsel for the publisher of Magyar Nemzet since 2000 and for the owners of HírTV since 2007. Both companies are owned by Fidesz-linked businessmen Gábor Liszkay and István Töröcskei. She has also represented Lánchíd Rádió, a pro-Government radio station owned by Gábor Liszkay and Infocenter, a company currently owned by Fidesz insider Zsolt Nyerges. These companies and businessmen are at the center of what critics say is a growing “right-wing media empire” controlled by handful of business “oligarchs” who form Orbán’s inner circle and who have dominated Hungary’s media market since Fidesz came to power in 2010.

In 2005, she also represented a vineyard part-owned by Orbán’s wife against claims made by liberal weekly Élet és Irodalom, Népszava reports.

Karas has lost numerous cases against media outlets during her career as legal representative for many right-wing media companies and politicians. Most recently, she unsuccessfully defended the Prime Minister’s adviser Árpád Habony in defamation complaint brought against Hungary’s top political and economic weekly, HVG, which published photos of Habony stepping out of his Mercedes G63 Land Rover in front of a restaurant. Karas argued that the ill-humoured article gave ground for hateful comments about Habony and argued that he is not a public figure.

In 2012, she lost a case against investigative news group, in which she unsuccessfully defended a local government district’s lawsuit against for an article they published about a series of irregular deals the local council made with subcontractors.

Last year she also unsuccessfully defended Magyar Nemzet in a case involving Hungary’s former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, after Gyurcsány sued Magyar Nemzet for charging him with plagiarism. The paper had to publish a correction.

Karas began her career as a lawyer for the Lapkiadó Vállalat (Print Publishing Enterprise) in 1985, and later worked as counsel for Magyar Fórum Kiadói Kft, the publisher of an extreme-right daily that was part-owned by radical nationalist conservative, István Csurka.

From 1999-2002 she was the head of the Complaint committee of Hungary’s former regulator, ORTT.

If appointed, Karas will automatically become the president of the Media Council to serve a nine-year term, renewable for an additional term.