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Hungarian Media Law - commission amendments -  web-based media are still required to register, under threat of a fine for non-compliance.  

 The European Commission  struck an eleventh hour deal with Hungary whilst the Commissioner herself was in the air between Milan and Brussels, and only  minutes  before a vote in the European Parliament criticising the Hungarian government's media law.  Commissioner Neelie Kroes, still a little breathless it seems, after rushing from the airport, told the Parliament that she would not shy away from defending media pluralism.

 Nevertheless, it seems the Commission's strong stance has weakened since Mrs Kroes first wrote to the Hungarian government in December. And after Mrs Kroes' dash from the airport, the European Parliament failed to vote on its  Resolutions  - apparently after some confusion  as to what it should do.

The agreement  was produced last Wednesday and  seems to

underpin the Hungarian government's proposals to force registration of all media, including online media, and  shows rather less support  for the fundamental freedoms of which the Commisson is supposed to be the Guardian.


The Hungarian Media Law is accused, among other things, of bringing in a censorship regime for Hungarian media  - including online and web-based media. The European Commission was analysing the law to determine whether the accusations are valid and any corrections or changes which should be made, in order to bring the law in line with the EU legal framework.


The Commission agreed four areas for amendment with the Hungarian government, and the result was produced on Thursday on a Hungarian Ministry website .


 In my opinion, it falls short of what would be required, in light of the criticism that was directed at the Hungarian Media law.  On-demand media providers are relieved of the obligation to provide balanced coverage,  but the same does not appear to the be the case for websites. If that is correct, then media websites are still faced with this obligation.


It is still the case that all media services, including online services, have to register. The only change made by the European  Commission is that they may start trading before they register. But they still face a stiff fine if they breach certain conditions. If a service may be dropped from a register and debarred from trading, under threat of a fine, that to me does not comply with freedom of expression.


One of the conditions which is linked to the fine  relates to trade mark infringement  - if a court order has been obtained against a online media service for trade mark infringement, it will be automatically deleted from the register and barred from trading.


This would seem to me to offer a clear route for large companies to debarr from trading any media which they don't like - or which report about their products and services.  And as such, it is a route to a form of censorship.


The law also creates a slightly worrying new definition of an ‘economic service' which would appear to bring within the remit of the law any online media product, including blogs, which run advertising.


The European Parliament had three resolutions on the Hungarian Media Law which should have been voted on Thursday.  The EPP Resolution propped up the Hungarian government, even to the extent of directly anger at those who critised the law - which is, after all,  a public policy document, where criticism is permitted in a democratic society. The ECR Resolution  went a middle road, calling for the law to support ‘democratic principles'. And the Joint Resolution of the Socialists, Green, Left and Liberals called, among other things, for a media freedoms directive. The Parliament was supposed to vote on Thursday, but the vote did not happen.  Insider sources say that the  Conference of the Presidents, which decides what will be voted,  was 'confused'.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) European Commission shows a weak hand to Hungary  19 February 2011







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