Hungary PM slams French, German criticism on media law

6th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Hungary's prime minister hit back on Thursday at French and German criticism of a new media law, the latest exchange in a row which has overshadowed the start of its stint at the European Union helm.

Viktor Orban insisted Budapest would only change the text if there was agreement between the EU as a whole, and would not be dictated to by two of the bloc's powerhouses.

"It's not up to the French or the Germans" to say whether the Hungarian law complies with EU regulations, Orban told foreign journalists ahead of a ceremony to mark the start of the six-month EU presidency.

"The EU should decide," Orban added.

"Naturally any procedure that the EU starts Hungary will accept, because we are part of the EU.

"However the most important principle is anti-discrimination, so I can't imagine a situation where one says this aspect of the Hungarian law must be changed while the same in other countries does not need to be changed."

Hungary has come in for widespread criticism over the media law which came into effect on January 1, just as it took over the revolving presidency from Belgium.

Under the legislation, a new regulatory body, the NMHH, has the right to impose fines of up to 200 million forint (720,000 euros, 950,000 dollars) for material that is considered offensive.

Headed by a close ally of Orban, it also has the right to inspect documents and force journalists to reveal sources on issues related to national security, prompting a wave of criticism from media watchdogs.

France called earlier this week for Hungary to amend the new law, noting it was "incompatible" with EU rules on press freedom, while Germany has also heavily criticised the text.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Union Commission, said he was going to discuss the issue with Orban, adding that "freedom of the press is a sacred principle, a fundamental value".

However Orban said criticism from individual governments was wide of the mark.

"I consider it too hasty and unnecessary the way the French and German governments have reacted in this debate," Orban said.

He added he was "happy to see" however that Germany was going back on its initial comments from December.

"And I expect the French to do the same."

"I don't remember Hungary criticising the French media law," he added.

Unlike Hungary, France has a law whereby the president can name the head of the national public television, "and I never said that it was an anti-democratic law," he pointed out.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi indicated on Wednesday that changes to the law could be considered.

Speaking to journalists in Budapest, Martonyi said it was "premature to say" that Hungary could modify its law but added: "Let's wait for the comments of the European Commission, then we'll see how the situation can be remedied."

© 2011 AFP

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