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Europe

Hungary willing to consider changes to controversial media law

Hungary has said it would be open to changes to its new media law - but only if other EU members do the same. The controversial new law went into effect January 1.

A man reads a Hungarian newspaper

Critics say the law is 'incompatible' with press freedom

Hungary will accept a European Union ruling on its controversial new media law and make any necessary changes, should the EU request them, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a news conference on Thursday.

"We are part of the EU, there are rules of the game," Orban told reporters in Budapest. "Any procedure that the EU starts and initiates Hungary will accept."

But the prime minister insisted that Hungary's new law was similar to legislation in other EU member states like Germany, France and the Netherlands, and said that if Hungary had to change its media law, other states should have to do the same.

"I defy anyone to find anything in our law that is not in other EU member states' media laws," he said.

Hungary's new law gives the center-right government, led by Orban's Fidesz party, oversight of all public news production and strong influence against private media, a move described by media watchdogs as arbitrary and ill-defined.

The legislation, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, drew sharp criticism from a number of EU member states, including Germany and France. Hungary assumed the six-month presidency of the 27-member bloc on January 1.

Criticism from other EU members

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Orban said other EU members should also have to change their media laws

France called earlier this week for Hungary to change the law, saying it was "incompatible" with EU rules on press freedom. In December, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, questioned whether Hungary was worthy of leading the EU.

"I consider it too hasty and unnecessary the way the French and German governments have reacted in this debate," Orban countered.

"I don't remember Hungary criticizing the French media law," he added, noting that France has a law whereby the president can name the head of the national public television.

"The EU should decide [whether the Hungarian law complies with EU regulations] ... it's not up to the French or the Germans," Orban said.

The Hungarian government has argued that the new law would not lead to restrictions on press freedom, saying the country was long overdue for clearer, tougher media laws.

Author: Martin Kuebler (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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