The Hungarian government on Tuesday continued to defend its controversial new media law in the face of criticism from the EU. The new law, which entered into force this week, creates the National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) [official website, in Hungarian], which controls private television and radio broadcasters, newspapers and online news sites. Under the new law, the government can fine broadcasters more than 700,000 euros and newspapers and news websites roughly 90,000 euros if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the media authority, whose members are all loyal to the ruling Fidesz party [party website, in Hungarian]. The new law has been harshly criticized [Daily Mail report] by members of the media, as well as other European governments, as too restrictive of free expression, and the European Commission has requested more information on the law to determine whether it complies with EU law. The Hungarian government, which assumed the EU presidency on January 1, has nevertheless continued to defend the law, with Zoltan Kovacs, state secretary for communication, telling national radio Tuesday that it is unnecessary to change the law [ANP/AFP report].
The Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] approved the law [Reuters report] in December, amid protests and criticism. In 2008, the Constitutional Court of Hungary [official website] struck down [JURIST report] two proposals passed by the country's parliament to criminalize hate speech as unconstitutional infringements on the freedom of expression. The court held that the extremist speech that the amendments sought to prevent was not a danger to society because it was already marginalized. The first bill would have allowed recovery in cases where a person's ethnic group, rather than the individual person, was insulted. The second bill would have designated national, ethnic, racial or religious insults as misdemeanors punishable by up to two years in prison.