As reported on Bloggingportal.eu:
“On January 1st, Hungary will take over the Presidency of the EU Council. On the same day, a controversial new law will come into force that even the OSCE’s media freedom representative has openly criticised – arguing in a recent report that “regulating online media … exerts a chilling, self-censoring effect on free expression.” ”
Essentially the new law allows a “National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) … dominated by people loyal to the ruling Fidesz party:
… to levy fines on any media outlet targeted for being “unbalanced” … [the media] will have to pay fines of hundreds of thousands of euros first before it can lodge an appeal (a process that can take years).”
Update 4 (6/1/11): apparently the above translation is incomplete (via Daniel, below)! Politics.hu has an easier to read Scribd version, which is getting a lot of comments.
Apart from supporting this, I’d like to add that (according to Dániel Fehér, a Hungarian green activist, friend, colleague and blogger) blogs can apparently be fined if they are “edited”, i.e. written by more than one person. Moreover, “most Hungarian blogs run on community blogging platforms”.
Each of these group blogs would almost certainly never have formed if bloggers thought they would be hit by a massive fine whenever one of the bloggers posted something ‘unbalanced’ which the ruling party did not like. And without these group blogs, the challenges faced by new bloggers get higher. The result is a chilling, wet blanket thrown over online conversation.
But as the stormclouds of censorship gather, let us celebrate a small victory for free expression. Last night Eurogoblin tweeted that the Hungarian Presidency blog didn’t allow comments. Now the comment form is live! Hoo-ray.
Or, maybe, not. I submitted a comment this morning, asking for their reaction to Bloggingportal’s initiative. It was not immediately published (probably normal), but I didn’t even see a message saying it was being moderated before publication (odd). Hours later, not a sign.
It looks like being an interesting Presidency. The Twitter hashtag: #NoToHuEU.
It’s a start – better than not publishing comments at all (see When is a Blog not a Blog? … but instead just a cheap website), but they would have done better to include the links in the comments (my comment linked to the above Bloggingportal action). It’s hard to say whether this was technical ineptitude or a charmingly naive effort to not draw attention to the action.
Moreover, to dismiss the concerns in this way is not going to make the problem go away. If they don’t treat ‘normal’ people’s opinions seriously, do they think we cannot read what the OCSE thinks? Social media engagement means not treating commenters disrespectfully like this.
I suspect the learning curve is gonna be steep.
Update 2 (30/12/2010)
If you’ve just stumbled across this post then I urge you to read the comments. There are quite a few, and many are long, but it’s worth getting to comments X and onwards, as that’s when the commenters go beyond exchanging opposing views and dig into the law itself.
Of particular interest – according to Converto (Comment XXII):
- Something like Blogactiv would be a target of the new law
- “only coverage on important events has to be impartial, the impartiality does not cover other events. And nobody can be fined for impartial reporting only obliged to publish a correction”
(note: I imagine that he meant to write “nobody can be fined for partial reporting” !)
- “fines can be imposed on the basis of reporting, but only in extreme cases (inciting hatred, pornographic content in TV without warning, breach of privacy of individuals). Fines have to be levied in a strictly progressive and gradual manner taking into account the revenues, etc of the media outlet.”
Of course, these are his views, and I don’t even know who he is, but if true they are important clarifications compared to my original post, so I’m reproducing them here to make sure they are read. I still have a problem with the law, though.
What is even more interesting, to me, is that these nuances emerge only after a sustained exchange of conflictual-yet-respectful comments on a blog, and that none of those people are connected with the Hungarian government in any way (as far as I know – note that the HU Presidency blog has meanwhile quit the field entirely). As Converto says:
“Your questions are quite stimulating to me, I would have never researched this thing without your article, so let’s carry on.”
Yes, please do!Mathew Lowry