Hungarian newspapers protest "end of press freedom"

3rd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two major Hungarian newspapers mourned what they saw as the end of press freedom Monday following the enactment of a controversial new media law, just as Budapest assumed the EU presidency.

"The freedom of the press in Hungary comes to an end," the largest-circulation daily Nepszabadsag plastered on its front page in Hungarian, followed by the same sentence in every official language of the 27-member European Union.

The newspaper explained its move in an editorial, saying: "the media law only serves the Fidesz government's authoritarian interests."

"Its aim is to tame, punish and in the end to ruin those who have another opinion," it added.

In a show of solidarity, the German daily Tageszeitung published the same protest on its front page.

Another Hungarian daily, Nepszava, meanwhile opened its Monday edition with a large drawing of a man swinging a hammer above the words: "Press freedom is a fundamental right in a member state of the European Union."

"We must defend our democratic rights in Hungary! We demand the freedom of the press!" it added in Hungarian and English, calling on the EU to help.

"We hope Europe is aware of these undemocratic measures and will make its own prudent diplomatic decisions, even if the majority of Hungarians is unaware of any of this."

In December, two weekly newspapers, Magyar Naracs and ES, had already published blank front pages to protest the new media law.

The controversial legislation, which came into force on January 1 just as Hungary took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, gives the government -- made up mostly of members of Premier Viktor Orban's Fidesz party -- the right to regulate media content.

The NMHH will also have the right to impose fines for content considered offensive and material that "is not politically balanced", with penalties going up to 200 million forint (720,000 euros, 950,000 dollars) for radio and television.

Other powers include the right to inspect media equipment and documents and to force journalists to reveal sources in issues related to national security.

This led to a torrent of protests from media and political observers in recent weeks, including the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), Amnesty International, the European parliament and several European governments, such as Germany.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government's media restrictions have already been felt on national television: according to the Internet portal, the government was awarded 246 minutes of airtime in November, more than double the total of 111 minutes for the three opposition parties combined.

© 2011 AFP

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