Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for Hungary to amend its new media law [press release] that has caused outbreaks of public protests in Budapest and Vienna. The new law took effect January 1 and 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 law, the government can Impose costly fines on broadcasters, newspapers and news websites if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the media authority. AI Deputy Director of International Europe and Central Asia programme, Andrea Huber, expressed fears that the components of the new law will severely infringe upon the rights members of the media:
The vagueness of the restrictions imposed by the new media legislation is very concerning and highly likely to have an adverse effect on freedom of expression. ... Facing the possibility of stringent fines or even closure, many journalists and editors are likely to choose the 'safe' option of modifying their content. ... The breadth of the restrictions, the lack of clear guidelines for journalists and editors and the strong powers of the new regulatory body all risk placing unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions to freedom of expression in Hungary.The law has been harshly criticized by members of the media [JURIST report], 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. In response to the protests, Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official profile] has stated that he is willing to amend the law if the EU finds it discriminatory, a determination he doubts because of its similarity [EUBusiness report] to other EU media laws in his opinion.
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.