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Main focus of Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hungary tightens its grip on the media

Hungary's right-wing conservative government passed a restrictive media law on Monday night. As of January 1 a new authority will control the public television and radio broadcasters, as well as private media. Commentators say this attack on press freedom augurs poorly for Hungary's presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Die Welt - Germany

On the way to becoming an authoritarian state

The newly created Authority for Media Supervision in Hungary (NMHH) will have far-reaching powers for controlling the public media and sanctioning newspapers and websites. A veritable monstrosity, the conservative daily Die Welt concludes: "From censorship to the confiscation of documents to the material ruin of critical media, this is everything an authoritarian government could wish for. What we have here is nothing short of a ministry for controlling public opinion and glorification of the powers that be. The top jobs go to party hacks and minions of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. ... If Austria's interlude with Jörg Haider was an operette, what's happening in Hungary is a full-fledged tragedy. The only difference is that the European Union still bothered to take exception to what was going on in Austria, and punished the country by relegating it to the penalty corner. In the case of Hungary nothing is happening at all, although it's clear the country is on the path to becoming an authoritarian state, and that this hasn't happened overnight. The freedom that Hungary won for itself and others two decades ago is on the verge of being lost." (22/12/2010)

La Stampa - Italy

A bad start to EU presidency

Hungary could hardly have chosen a worse way to launch into its EU Council presidency, writes the liberal daily La Stampa commenting on the country's restrictive new media law: "In normal times it would have been simply an objectionable law, but coming nine days before the begin of Hungary's first EU Council presidency it is at best a worrying start. ... Bursting with pride, Foreign Minister János Martonyi has announced in Brussels Hungary's ambition to enter the EU arena as 'the torero and not the bull', to contribute to the establishment of a 'humane Europe'. This intention isn't very compatible with legislation law that is already been branded a gag law. ... The criterion of 'damaging to public interests' is alarming because it is a vague and very generalised formulation. Even to write that this is a gag law could harm the interests of Hungary." (22/12/2010)

Hírszerző - Hungary

The end of press freedom

Press freedom will be in for rough times once Hungary's new media law goes into effect on January 1, 2011, writes the news portal Hírszerző: "It goes without saying that the media law will be put into practice, meaning that self-censorship will once more be a matter of course for large parts of the Hungarian public. Furthermore it is practically certain that many editors and publishers will attempt to adapt to the 'changed legal environment' and make fine adjustments regarding content. What awaits us as of January is anything but funny. No one should be under the illusion that the government majority's crusade will spare the free press. ... We have to brace ourselves for the fact that the government and its media authorities will systematically try to bleed dry the publishing houses that are critical of its policies, or at least force them to adopt a neutral or more well-disposed attitude." (22/12/2010)

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