Throughout 2012, my staff and I have been paying close attention to the state of media pluralism and media freedom in Hungary, and this issue was dealt with again today when I spoke with the Culture committee at the European Parliament.
I welcome changes in the Hungarian Media Legislation that have been proposed or already made by Hungary. However, these changes do not address all the outstanding substantial concerns I have. My concerns remain serious, and I expect Hungary to not only continue its dialogue with the Council of Europe but to take rapid further action. In other words, it is not enough for the government to say it is in talks with the Council of Europe.
These actions are essential for Hungarian democracy, and also to assure investors about a stable political climate and a safe investment environment in Hungary. These values and conditions are at risk if rule of law and access to information are not guaranteed. News reporting should not be censored or controlled by a government’s actions.
In particular, I want to see immediate action ensuring the real independence of the Media Council; measures to reduce the excessive concentration of powers in the hand of the Media Council and better measures to ensure the effective independent functioning of publicly-funded media. Solutions can be found in co-operation with the Council of Europe – so let’s see them.
In my view, the Media Council should also reconsider its practices for assigned radio frequencies. The best example of recent problems is several court judgements confirming that the Media Council repeatedly violated the legal requirements related to frequency assignment procedures. We are talking about the famous Klubradio issue.
When the Media Council questions the consistency of the rulings of the court it is questioning the rule of law. This is a serious issue that goes beyond just the uncertain situation of Klubradio. It also offends common sense! Let me cite an extreme example: the Media Council wanted to diminish media pluralism – by excluding all tender proposals including Klubrádió’s – because the blank back sides of the pages of the tender documents had not been signed. This is not reasonable, it is not a sufficient ground for such a drastic decision that affects both media pluralism and the stable conduct of business.
So, let me finish by saying that this lengthy and complicated legal battle should end. Regardless of what anybody thinks of its content, Klubradio provides an important forum for opposition voices in Hungary. The court has consistently rejected the actions of the Media Council which would make its functioning impossible in practice, and now it is time to move forward.
It’s time for the Media Council and the Hungarian Government to take media pluralism and freedom out of danger.