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Media scrutiny

December 21, 2010

The Hungarian parliament has passed a controversial new media law that sets up a board to oversee public and private media outlets. The move has led to fears about press freedom with protests ahead of the vote.

Three Hungarian newspapers and magazines are arranged with their front-pages published blank
Critics say the law will stifle press freedomImage: AP

Lawmakers in Hungary have given a controversial new body powers to oversee public news production and levy high fines on private media that break rules on political reporting.

The Hungarian parliament passed the law establishing the National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) on Monday evening, according to the Hungarian national news agency MTI.

Some 1,500 protesters gathered outside the parliament in the hours before the vote, claiming that it would restrict press freedom, after an appeal was made on the social network site Facebook.

Viktor Orban
Orban's government says the changes are necessary as technology changesImage: AP

The new body is to be controlled by members of the ruling right-wing conservative Fidesz party, which is led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and has a comfortable majority in parliament. The government claims the law is overdue and reflects a need to address changes in technology.

The NMHH council will be able to impose heavy fines on the producers of radio, television, online and newspaper content that is deemed "not politically balanced."

Naming of sources

Journalists could also be required to submit names of their sources to the NMHH if necessary for "national security," according to draft rules.

In protest against the legislation, some newspapers were released with blank front pages earlier this month.

Critics say the aim of the law is to silence dissent, with fines of up to 92,000 euros ($120,000) large enough to force the closure of small media outlets.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson