Hungary: EU Commission Must Stand for Media Freedom in Hungary
19 Jan 2012
On Tuesday January 17, 2012 the European Union’s Executive Commission started legal proceedings against the Hungarian authorities following the conclusion of a detailed legal assessment which raised serious concerns regarding new legislation that came into force on 1 January 2012. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the EU Commission’s decision to launch legal challenges against Hungary following the introduction of legislation which threatens the independence of key public institutions. However, we urge the EU to go further in addressing the country’s human rights issues, including restrictions on freedom of expression.
“Fiscal rigour is not enough to sustain and strengthen the EU. Respect for human rights values must be as central to the EU. In these times of deep crisis and soul searching, it is particularly important that the EU commission should take all necessary measures to ensure that the values at the heart of the EU vision are fully respected across all its members," commented Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
Changes to the Hungarian Constitution resulted in the government, lead by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, tightening control over the country's central bank and data protection authorities and judicial system. There are also fears that the new Constitution may restrict citizens’ ability to bring cases to the Constitutional Court. Since the Constitution defines the family as a heterosexual unit and stipulates that media services should broadcast programs that respect the institution of marriage and family. It can be used to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
The EU Commission, based in Brussels, issued three ‘Letters of Formal Notice’ to Hungary yesterday that are the first stage in the EU's infringement procedureand the Commission has given the country’s leaders one month to respond to their actions. If Hungary fails to meet the EU’s requirements the legal proceedings could be taken to the European Court of Justice and would delay the country’s plan to secure aid from the IMF.
This is not the first time that Mr Orban’s conservative Fidesz party has been accused of being in breach of EU values since its electoral success in 2010. The sweeping electoral victory of Fidesz and its coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party gave it a full control over the legislative agenda. By subsequently amending six times the Constitution and more than 50 laws Parliament removed basic checks and balances allowing the government to consolidate its power.
ARTICLE 19’s criticism of Hungary is not limited to the new Constitution and we remain seriously worried about deteriorating situation of freedom of media in the country. Throughout the last year, ARTICLE 19 repeatedly raised freedom of expression concerns arising from the package of new media laws adopted in 2010, including very restrictive content requirements for broadcasting, print and online media and a highly centralised media regulatory authority to police them for unbalanced or immoral reporting.
ARTICLE 19 also condemned the decision by Hungarian authorities in December 2011 to refuse the renewal of a broadcasting license for Klubrádió, the country’s only independent radio station, after it was critical of the government.
ARTICLE 19 continues to call on the EU to demand that Hungary revise its legislation to meet international standards on freedom of expression and ensure media can operate freely and without fear of repercussions. We also urge the EU to review whether the actions of the Hungarian Government fall within the scope of Article 7 of the Lisbon treaty and whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach by the Hungarian Government of the EU values such as respect for freedom, democracy and human rights.