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Hungary court strikes down provisions of media law

Hungary's Constitutional Court [official website, in Hungarian] on Monday struck down [press release, in Hungarian] certain provisions of the country's recently passed media law as an unconstitutional restraint on press freedom. Rights groups had urged Hungary to amend [JURIST report] the media law. The media law created 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 could impose costly fines on broadcasters, newspapers and news websites if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the media authority. The Constitutional Court struck down provisions allowing the NMHH to regulate content in print and online media and limiting the rights of reporters to protect confidential sources. The Constitutional Court, in a separate decision, also struck down [press release, in Hungarian] a law regulating religious organizations [JURIST report]. Critics of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website, in Hungarian] have expressed concern over his apparent attempts to limit check and balances on his power [Reuters report].

In April Hungarian President Pal Schmitt signed into law a controversial new constitution [JURIST report] amid concern from civil society leaders and opposition politicians that the document contravenes European human rights principles. According to Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], the new constitution "enshrines discrimination," and jeopardizes the rights of people with disabilities, women and LGBT people. Changes in the new constitution included a debt ceiling, allowing the Fiscal Council to veto the budget and dissolve parliament for failure to pass an annual budget by the end of March, defining marriage as a union between men and women and stating that the life of a fetus begins at and should be protected from conception. Hungary's parliament passed the new media law last December amid protests and criticism. The law took effect on January 1, 2011, the same day the Hungarian government assumed the presidency of the EU. Despite criticism, the Hungarian government initially defended [JURIST report] the law. Under the new law, the NMHH 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 law has been harshly criticized [Daily Mail report] by members of the media, as well as other European governments, as being too restrictive of free expression.

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