Hungary should use the Council of Europe’s standards to guarantee freedom of expression and media pluralism

Strasbourg, 25/02/11  – “Hungarian media must be able to perform their role as watchdog in a pluralistic democratic society. In order to achieve this, Hungary should abide by its commitments as a member state of the Council of Europe and make the most of the organisation’s expertise in the fields of freedom of expression and media independence and pluralism,” said Commissioner Hammarberg today as he published his Opinion entitled “Hungary’s media legislation in light of Council of Europe standards on freedom of the media.”

The Opinion follows the Commissioner’s visit to Budapest on 27-28 January 2011, during which he held extensive discussions on the ‘media law package’ introduced by the Hungarian authorities between June and December 2010, and which is now in force.

At the end of that visit, the Commissioner had highlighted his main concerns regarding the package, which included: prescriptions on content that media outlets (including online and on demand media) must provide; the use of unclear definitions for such content regulation; 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.

“The Opinion published today offers a more detailed explanation of those concerns, in the light of Council of Europe standards. These include in particular Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted in the judgments of the Strasbourg Court”, the Commissioner explained. On this basis, the Commissioner makes several recommendations to the Hungarian authorities, including the repeal or revision of a number of provisions, regarding notably:

- the establishment of subjective criteria relating to the information and coverage that media must provide (Article 13 of the Press and Media Act);
- sanctions for infringements of media legislation (Article 187 of the Mass Media Act);
- registration requirements for a broad range of media, including print and online media (Articles 45 and 46 of the Mass Media Act);
- protection of journalists’ sources (Article 6 of the Press and Media Act);
- media freedom (Article 61 of the Constitution);
- appointments to media regulatory authorities (Articles 124-125 of the Mass Media Act);
- appointments to the management of public broadcasting services (Article 102 of the Mass Media Act);
- appeals against the decisions of the Media Council (Articles 163-166 of the Mass Media Act).

While these provisions are analysed separately, the Commissioner concludes that “the wide range of problematic provisions in Hungary’s media legislation coupled with their mutually reinforcing nature result in an unfortunate narrowing of the space in which the media can operate freely in Hungary – a comprehensive revision of the media law package as a whole is therefore highly recommended”.

Through this Opinion, the Commissioner intends to continue his dialogue with the Hungarian authorities on these important issues. “The Hungarian authorities have repeatedly expressed their openness to dialogue with international partners on the impact of the recent media law reforms and are committed to undertaking a review and revision process in agreement with the European Commission,” noted the Commissioner. “With its broader scope anchored in the European Convention on Human Rights and capturing all the human rights implications at stake, the Council of Europe standards are invaluable to the Hungarian authorities at this juncture,” he said.

 Read the opinion


Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, + 33 (0)3 88 41 34 21; stefano.montanari@coe.int

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