OSCE representative warns Hungarian gov’t over RTL-case

October 21, 2014

EU court of human rights

Dunja Mijatovic, Representative of the Freedom of the Media at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has sent a video message concerning the situation of media freedom in Hungary. The message was broadcasted within the framework of a hearing in the European Parliament organized by Hungarian oppositionist Democratic Coalition on Monday.

This is the first time since 2012 that the OSCE Representative has commented on the media situation in Hungary. Repeating some of her earlier findings about Hungary’s media law, Mijatovic said that even though its penal measures were not frequently applied to media outlets, it still has a “paralysing effect” on free press in the country.

Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek also mentioned the pressure exercised on media outlets that are critical of the government, citing the dismissal of Origo.hu editor-in-chief Gergő Sáling and the government’s interference with the news content of commercial television channels. Lunacek mentioned that the Fidesz government had published a study arguing that RTL Klub’s news is biased whereas TV2, a commercial channel recently acquired by pro-government businessmen, proved to be more “balanced”. According to Lunacek, however, the real question is why any government would be interested in evaluating and controlling commercial news services within the country. She added that the advertisement tax is extremely discriminatory against RTL Klub and therefore an undemocratic measure.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld said the principles of free press and the freedom of expression are clearly set by the EU community. in ‘t Veld argued that the real problem is not with the individual Hungarian legislation but with the combined effect on Hungarian public life and society. The tendency suggested by the subsequent laws and regulations is a genuine source of concern, she concluded.

Dirk Gerkens, chief executive of Hungarian RTL Klub, heavily attacked the Hungarian government’s ad tax, reminding European Commissioner-designate Tibor Navracsics that he had already distanced himself from the Fidesz government’s media policy during his written answer to questions at his hearing. Gerkens again emphasized that RTL will use every legal possibility to fight the extraordinary taxation, and that they are preparing for a “long and difficult war” with the Hungarian government.

The government was represented at the event by Zoltán Kovács, international spokesperson. Kovács vigorously defended Fidesz’s standpoints, mainly by accusing Democratic Coalition of not inviting him or anyone else from the other side. Kovács said the European Parliament hearing was a “political spectacle” that often diverted from its main topic. Reacting to the event, pro-government Magyar Nemzet accused Ferenc Gyurcsány, former leftist prime minister and leader of Democratic Coalition, of “orchestrating a coordinated international attack” against Fidesz and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán by lobbying at European and US international forums.

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