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"Tens of thousands" protested last week in Budapest over Hungary's media law. (Credit: Reuters via IOL.co.za)

In January, Hungary adopted a new media law that quickly met with sharp criticism and protests.

And even though amendments to the law were submitted and accepted by Parliament this month, the protests continue and media advocacy groups are calling for further changes to what they see as too-restrictive laws.

Amendments make it so the law no longer requires Internet sites and blogs provide balanced news, but print and broadcast media still must.  And the law still lets the government “ban media outlets and dictate content – and is controlled by a media council made up of political appointees of the ruling party.”

Earlier protests of the law included the “largest circulation broadsheet” in Hungary, Nepszabadsag. It published a front-page editorial stating that freedom of the press was over.

But last week, Hungarians took to the streets in Budapest in what has been called “the biggest civil protest since the 1989 regime change.” The March 15 protests fell on Hungary’s national holiday “remembering the 1848 revolution.”

There were also protests in two other Hungarian cities, two Hungarian embassies and Hungarian Consulate General in New York, according to Politics.hu.

IFEX stated that 30,000 people protested, but the Associated Press reported a number that was less sure ( “tens of thousands”).

According to Politics.hu, the protest’s organizer, Anna Vamos, explained that protestors don’t think the amendments match with “European Union norms.”  And, protestors don’t like “the media authority’s power to arbitrary levy fines on media outlets.”

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After the European Commission called on Hungary to make changes to its law, Hungary — which took over the EU presidency in January for six months —  passed amendments to the law in early March.

“Serious concerns remain,” however, especially concerning the National Media Council, according to IFEX, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, which includes members such as Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Index on Censorship, among many other organizations.

The EU, however, reportedly said it was “satisfied” with the changes.

The law still grants the government the right to fine journalists for not revealing sources, according to Canadian Press.  And both “on-demand media services and print press outlets” have to “register” within 60 days of becoming active.

Reporters without Borders criticized the amendments in a March 7 press release calling the changes “cosmetic.” The press freedom group reiterated its request that Hungarian lawmakers “look again at this legislation more closely” and eliminate the Media Council.

A March 11 press release on the CPJ’s website mirrored the criticism. “With these amendments, the Hungarian government is merely paying lip service to upholding fundamental principles of press freedom enshrined in the European Union,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia’s program coordinator Nina Ognianova is quoted as saying.

In February, iMediaEthics wrote when Hungary’s government said it would “ease” the laws and present changes to its Parliament.

 

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‘Tens of Thousands’ Protest Hungary’s Media Law

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