Hungary’s “largest circulation broadsheet” published a front-page editorial claiming that freedom of the press in the nation has been ended.
The headline “The freedom of the press in Hungary comes to an end” was published Jan. 3 in the newspaper–Nepszabadsag. According to Monsters and Critics, that headline was published “in all 23 official languages of the European Union.”
The editorial was in reaction to new laws, in effect as of Jan. 1, that establishes a “new Media Council” that can claim print, broadcast and online media aren’t “balanced” or “moral.” The law also could require journalists to reveal confidential source identity, according to the Daily Mail.
Likewise, daily newspaper Nepszava protested the law by publishing a “blank front page for a second time in protest over the legislation.” Nepszabadsag and Nepszava are described as “left-liberal” and “left-wing” respectively. The Daily Mail noted that Nepsava also published “an illustration of a man, taken to represent the government, wielding giant sledgehammer.”
Media — including the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers — have “expressed concern” over the law. The law could lead to threats of “gagging” and political control over the media.
“The government of the Republic of Hungary firmly rejects all accusations aimed at it on account of its adoption of the new Media Act,” the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice is quoted as saying in a statement. “The Hungarian Media Act does not contain any element that has not been a well-established part of legislation in most European countries.”
Hungary’s deputy prime minister, Tibor Navracsics, reportedly said the criticism of the law is “excessive” and “hysteria.”
“If there are really problems in practice, we will not hesitate to modify the law, which is in principle a good piece of work,” Navracsics reportedly told daily newspaper Magyar Hirlap.
State secretary for communication, Zoltan Kovacs, defended the law as well, the Financial Times reported.
“It isn’t necessary to change a Hungarian law just because it is subject to criticism from abroad,” Kovacs is quoted as saying.
“The European Commission and the European Council’s president must end their silence on this issue and must insist that the Hungarian government prevent this law, which is incompatible with democratic standards, from coming into force. It is the job of the commission and the council to ensure implementation of treaties that guarantee equal rights for all European citizens. This media law strips Hungarian citizens of the legitimate and fundamental freedom to receive and impart news and information.”
iMediaEthics is writing Reporters without Borders and will update with any response.