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Europe

Hungary stands firm on media law despite foreign criticism

Hungary's prime minister has dismissed widespread international criticism of his country's new media law, which gives the government broad powers to fine or shut down media organizations.

Victor Orban

Orban said he sees little validity in 'foreign' criticism of the law

Hungary has "no intention whatsoever" to amend its controversial media law despite widespread criticism that it may stifle a free and independent press, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview broadcast late on Thursday.

Amending the law "would be characteristic of a country suffering from lack of self-confidence, and we are not that country," he told private broadcaster HirTV. "We are not frightened of a bit of criticism, or even a lot of criticism, coming from Western Europe or even beyond."

The Hungarian parliament, dominated by Orban's conservative Fidesz party, approved the law on Tuesday. It gives the government the authority to impose fines of up to 730,000 euros ($957,000) or completely shut down media outlets for distributing content it deems offensive or "not politically balanced."

International outcry

Protesters with mouths taped shut

The law has also prompted protests from Hungarians

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the law violated media standards and could endanger press independence and pluralism. European Union states also condemned the law, especially as Hungary prepares to take over the bloc's six-month rotating presidency on January 1, the same day the law comes into effect.

"As a country that is about to take over the presidency of the EU, Hungary will have a particular responsibility for the image of the whole Union in the world," said a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a Berlin press conference on Wednesday.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselbron went further, questioning whether Hungary was prepared to be the international face of the EU.

"The plans clearly violate the spirit and the letter of EU treaties," Asselborn said. "It raises the question of whether such a country is worthy of leading the EU."

But Orban refused to budge, saying in the interview that he ascribed "very limited importance to these foreign views."

Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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