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EU’s Hungary Presidency In A Media War

  • January 9th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

orban-viktor.jpgThe new Hungarian government has started talking about moderating a national media law which has diverted attention from other tasks, at the start of its Presidency of the EU.

That coincides with reports of new moves in America, on the Wikileaks front, perceived as nibbling at the freedom to publish.


The law on news media devised by the conservative government elected last April in Hungary is targeted at “excesses” and “imbalances”, proposing penalties for media organisations found to be unfair in approach, by an external panel.

It has been received with deepest wariness by both media organisations and members of other European governments.

Questions of possible abuse of power in turn threaten to undermine the bona fides of the government as one of the new entrants into the European Union from the former communist bloc, carrying out a leading function.

How strong is the democratic tradition, mentality and will?

Trouble of the same kind occurred in neighbouring Slovakia in 2009, the government there actually moving against news media, because of its worries over inter-ethnic strife involving Hungarians.

See EUAustralia Online: “Peace bid in Slovakia’s media tussle”, 30.4.09; “Worry over media freedom in Slovakia”, 9.4.09.

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban (picture), has been made aware of misgivings about his regime, in his encounters with media from outside of Hungary, and by Friday (7.1.11) was budging on whether the law might stay intact.

“As with all other legislation, in the case of the media law we will monitor its application in practice, and if we see that some kind of political concerns seem justified during the application of the law, then we will be ready …to remedy those”, he told a media conference in  Budapest.

Management of democratic government in the EU requires far more than just meeting the standards of governance in any one country.


eu-flag-movement.jpgOne informed commentator, the politician, academic, former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Washington, Geza Jeszenszky, this week gave a sympathetic review of tasks confronting the Orban government on the European level, just eight months into its term of office at home. (See EUAustralia Online, “Conservatives’ big win in Hungary”, 13.4.10).

“Hungary has an ambitious program for the presidency”, he told Radio Free Europe.

“We want to contribute to the strengthening of Europe, especially by working for a common energy policy, by improving infrastructure in the north-south direction, by completing the admission of Croatia, and by including Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area.

“We plan to launch the Danube Region Strategy, which covers transportation, water management, flood control, ecology and tourism, including water sports.

“Hungary has a strong interest also in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, a common policy towards Russia and Ukraine.”

While the government is in a suitable geo-political position to work on such an agenda,  Mr Jeszenszky said it should revise offending parts of its law on media.

“First let me list the excesses it is designed to cure: racism, anti-Semitism, hostility towards various minorities, denial of the Holocaust or of the crimes committed by the communists, excessive violence and improper language on the screens, etc.

“The new law has nothing to do with political censorship as such; it is intended more to protect decency, social and political.

“On the other hand the wording of the law leaves much to be desired, the offenses mentioned are too general, not specific enough, and the supervising authority represents only one wing of politics.

“My preference would be an entirely nonpartisan body to supervise how the media observes a better law. All in all, the outcry against the law is exaggerated but it is not entirely out of place. Prime Minister Orban has just said that the law might have to be revised. I concur.”

Other demands for a change in the law, or its removal, will continue to be more forthright.


assange-julian1.jpgInformation has emerged in the United States that the government there has moved in Court, to get personal details on Julian Assange (picture) and others connected with Wikileaks, from the social networking  service Twitter.

Papers from a District Court in Virginia show the government wants to subpoena information about Mr Assange as the founder of the website that has been publishing US diplomatic cables; Bradley Manning, the Army Private accused of providing the material, and others.

Backers of the Wikileaks venture, including several thousand younger citizens at support demonstrations world-wide, see it as acting in line with democratic norms; opponents including the US government say it has unacceptably gone against national interests.

Julian Assange who is opposing moves to have him deported from England to face criminal charges in Sweden, says the United States wants him also, for an espionage trial.

See EUAustralia Online: “The hunt after Wikileaks and Julian Assange”, 8.12.10; :Rudd defends Assange’s rights”, 9.12.10.


athens-parliament.jpgImmediate problems for EU leaders this January include the tension over would-be migrants and asylum seekers being stopped along the land border between Greece and Turkey.

The cash-strapped Greek government has already been getting help in patrolling the area, as an external border of the EU, from the FOREX joint frontier service.

Ministers were insisting this weekend that they would construct a high fence in the Evros Prefecture, along about one-tenth of the 200-kilometre border –  a focal point for border-crossers, and one of the most intensely-used passages of all, for gaining entry.
They have encountered criticism over that among other EU governments and from rights organisations, concerned that the handling of large numbers new arrivals – from several countries or regions including Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, and parts of Asia – is inhumane.

The government says the influx of people, which to many observers has rapidly changed the aspect of street scenes in Greek cities, threatens to overcome its resources.

It has announced the use of former army camps to provide more accommodation, of a better standard than crowded camps currently in use.

The Citizen Protection Minister, Christos Papoutsis, said on Friday (7.1.11) that while the country would solve its problem with unauthorised immigration, the arrival rate at 200 a day, was equivalent to taking in a small village each time.

The latest Greek chapter in the story of migration pressure on the European Union has brought on speculation about a new front about to open, with the expected accession of Croatia this year or next.

It would mean a new section of external frontier, shared with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and more work for the frontier forces.


Athens News Agency, “Government on Evros fence”, 8.1.11., (8.1.11).

BBC News, London, “US wants Twitter details of Wikileaks activists”, 8.1.11., (8.1.11).

Krisztina Than and Luke Baker, Reuters, London, “Hungary PM expects reassurance from EU on media law”, 7.1.11., (8.1.11).

Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty, Prague, “Hungary’s Controversial Media Law ‘Has Nothing To Do With Political Censorship’ “, 8.1.11., (8.1.11).