Hungary: Commissioner Hammarberg initiates dialogue and calls on the authorities to ensure freedom of expression and media pluralism

Strasbourg, 01/02/11  – “Hungary should incorporate Council of Europe standards on freedom of expression and media pluralism when reviewing its media laws,” said the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg today commenting on the ‘media law package’ introduced by the Hungarian authorities between June and December 2010, and which is now in force.

Speaking at the end of a visit to Budapest from 27 to 28 January, Commissioner Hammarberg emphasised that the Council of Europe is well placed to advise the Hungarian authorities on how to ensure that domestic media law is fully human rights compliant. Notable binding standards are those contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the Strasbourg Court.

“The Hungarian authorities are currently discussing with the European Commission the conformity of the media legislation with European Union standards – the scope of this review should be broadened to take into account the Council of Europe instruments and Hungary’s commitments as a member state of the Council of Europe” said Mr Hammarberg, recalling the assurances provided by the President of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority, Ms Annamária Szalai, on the openness of the Hungarian authorities to dialogue.

“Concerns arising from the media legislation are serious and cover several areas,” Commissioner Hammarberg pointed out, “from content regulation of all media, including print and Internet press, to the use of unclear definitions for such regulation that may be subject to misinterpretation; the establishment of a politically unbalanced regulatory machinery with disproportionate powers and lack of full judicial supervision ; threats to the independence of public-service broadcast media ; and erosion of the protection of journalists’ sources, to name just a few”. Irrespective of the concrete implementation of these provisions, Commissioner Hammarberg believes that their aggregate result creates the risk of a chilling effect on the media and of self-censorship within the media profession.

To ensure that the Hungarian media can continue to perform its crucial role as watchdog in a pluralistic democratic society, Commissioner Hammarberg stresses the need for Hungary to abide by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the relevant case-law of the Strasbourg Court. The Hungarian authorities should also take into account the relevant recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as the Organisation’s expertise, which reflects national best practice in the European region.

Finally, referring to the way in which the media law package was adopted, Commissioner Hammarberg stressed the need for all relevant stakeholders, including opposition parties and civil society, to be able to participate in a meaningful manner in the review of this legislation, which regulates such a fundamental aspect of the functioning of a democratic society.

Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;

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