Hungarian court rules parts of media law unconstitutional | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 20.12.2011
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Hungarian court rules parts of media law unconstitutional

Hungary's constitutional court has overruled sections of a new media law, claiming it interferes with press freedom. It is the latest challenge to what many see as an undemocratic consolidation of government power.

French European parliament member Jean-Paul Besset protests as Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, unseen, delivers a speech at the European Parliament

The law has led to protests inside and outside Hungary

The Hungarian constitutional court has ruled that a controversial media law "unconstitutionally limited freedom of the written press."

The law, introduced more than a year ago, has been condemned as a major attack on press freedom by rights groups and governments abroad. Last week four Hungarian journalists went on hunger strike to protest against it.

Under the terms of the legislation, media are obliged to provide "balanced coverage," subject to scrutiny by a media authority. Journalists are also obliged to submit names of sources to the authority "if necessary" on grounds of national security.

In its decision on Monday, the court removed the authority's right to scrutinize print and online content.

It also deleted a passage in the law that limits the confidentiality of journalists' sources for stories serving the public interest. New rules were mandated specifying that journalists may only be forced to divulge their sources under a procedure controlled by courts.

Serious concerns from EU

Viktor Orban

Orban's party is losing support as the economic outlook remains bleak

The media law is just one part of a program of measures that opponents of the government have condemned as undemocratic.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding last week wrote to Budapest expressing her "serious concerns from an EU law perspective" over reforms to the Justice Ministry and the new constitution.

The letter came as a friend of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Tunde Hando, was elected by parliament to head the country's controversial National Judiciary Office.

The decision prompted the Hungarian branch of anti-corruption group Transparency International to complain that it was "highly unlikely" the judiciary would be able to act as an effective check against the executive.

Key allies of Orban have also been placed in institutions such as the public prosecutor's office and the national audit office, according to the opposition.

Orban's Fidesz party came to power last year, but support for him has fallen with a weakening economy, while the popularity of the far-right Jobbik party is on the increase.

Author: Richard Connor (AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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