Government official files libel suit against newspaper, reader over online comment

János Lázár, Secretary of State for the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, has filed a civil libel suit against a newspaper and a criminal libel claim against a reader for online comments made in reaction to an article about the politician’s involvement in a fatal car accident last year. As first reported by Cink.hu, Hungarian officials have also interrogated six additional readers who submitted comments to the article on the newspaper’s website. Read more ››

Media Authority President’s death raises questions over successor

The death of Annamária Szalai, who served as President of the Media Authority and Chairperson of the Media Council, is fueling speculation over who will be named to fill the post as Hungary’s top media regulator. The outcome also puts to test whether the newly modified appointment procedures brokered by the Council of Europe will achieve the intended aim of ensuring the Media Authority’s independence. Read more ››

Cartoon wars: Hungary and Germany trade jabs

A battle of words and wit between German TV and Hungarian officials and journalists continued this week over recent cartoons aired on German state TV calling the Hungarian Government undemocratic and saying it controls the media.

The tiff began March 16, when German public TV station ran an animated segment for children called “Red Card for Hungary,” which says the Hungarian Government’s policies are anti-democratic and violate EU norms.The segment also says that the Hungarian Government controls the media to ensure that news outlets only report positive news of government policies. Read more ››

Ringier ups capital of Hungary’s top left-wing daily

Swiss multinational Ringier is giving a capital boost of HUF 750 million (roughly EUR 2.5 million) to the left-wing newspaper Népszabadság, Hungary’s top news daily, which is currently operating at a loss, HVG reports. Ringier’s decision comes after its failed deal to sell its majority shares of Népszabadság to the Szabad Sajtó Foundation, which is run by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). According to HVG, Ringier was trying to sell its shares of the paper so the Media Council would approve its merger with German media conglomerate Axel Springer. The Media Council blocked the merger last year, and according to HVG, it was rumored that the the Council informally agreed to clear the merger if Ringier sold its holdings of Népszabadság. Read more ››

The EC asks for public input on possible new EU-wide media regulations

The European Commission has opened public consultations for citizens and groups to comment on whether to adopt new EU-wide media  regulations, including a measure addressing the independence of media regulatory bodies. The announcement comes as policy makers and civil society groups call for stronger EU-wide regulations on media independence and pluralism in order to ensure that common democratic standards are being met at the national and pan-EU levels.

Read more ››

Media Council put in charge of selecting winner of state’s top journalism award

In order to avoid repeating mistakes made during this year’s nomination for the recipient of the state’s top journalism prize, the Media Council will be responsible for selecting the winner of the Táncsics Prize in the future, according to a March 21 statement by Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog. The announcement followed a week of controversy and protest over Balog’s March 14 decision to award the state’s top journalism prize to far-right TV presenter Ferenc Szaniszló. Under mounting domestic and international criticism, Balog asked the journalist to return the prize. Read more ››

Kroes calls for more changes to Hungary’s media laws

Issues of media freedom in Hungary “are not yet solved,” said European Commissioner Neelie Kroes last week at a seminar on media freedom and pluralism in Dublin, adding that “only a fraction of the Council of Europe recommendations have been implemented.” The Council of Europe’s May 2012 assessment identified a wide range of provisions in the Hungarian media laws that are inconsistent with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Council of Europe recommendations. Hungarian lawmakers plan to amend several of these provisions following consultations with the Council of Europe this January. A group of prominent NGOs have expressed their dissatisfaction with the limited scope of these amendments and have asked the Council of Europe to continue negotiating with Hungarian officials in order to address the full range of the Council’s own recommendations. Read more ››

Top public media adviser stirs controversy over anti-Roma and far-right Facebook posts

Beatrix Siklósi, chief cultural adviser to the head of Hungary’s public media management body, the MTVA, sparked controversy this week after Hungary’s top economic weekly HVG published a screen shot of Siklósi’s Facebook page, which contained an anti-Roma joke, a post honoring Hungary’s interwar leader responsible for mass deportations of Hungarian Jews, and articles from Hungary’s far-right website kuruc.info. Siklósi was a member of this year’s prize committee responsible for nominating the winner of the Táncsics award.   Read more ››

Far-right reporter agrees to return state’s top journalism award

TV presenter Ferenc Szaniszló, who is known for espousing anti-Roma and anti-Semitic views during his broadcasts, has agreed to a government official’s request to return the state’s top journalism prize. On March 14, Hungary’s Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog  awarded the prestigious Táncsics Prize to Szaniszló, a presenter on the pro-Government station Echo TV, sparking domestic and international outcry. Hours after announcing the award, Minister Balog acknowledged that his decision was a mistake and that he was unaware of the journalist’s past statements. The minister on Tuesday issued a letter to Szaniszló asking him to return the award, stating that Szaniszló’s views “run counter to the values espoused by myself and the government.”

Read more ››

Journalists protest state award for far-right TV presenter

Several journalists have returned their Táncsics prizes in protest of the government’s decision to give the state’s highest journalism award to TV presenter Ferenc Szaniszló, who has made numerous anti-Roma and anti-Semitic remarks during his broadcasts. Szaniszló, a commentator for the government-friendly station Echo TV, has described the Roma as “parasitic ape-like people” and blamed the loss of Hungary’s Battle of Mohács in 1526 on Jewish bankers. The government also awarded state prizes to singer János Petrás of the far-right music group Kárpátia, considered the “house band” of Hungary’s extreme-right Jobbik party, and to archaeologist Kornél Bakay, who claims that Jews organised the slave trade during the Middle Ages. Read more ››