Mathew Lowry

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.” ”

European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary

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 3 (5/1/11): the new law has been translated into English (via Kosmopolito).

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.

As BP puts it, the “EU Council will be presided over by a country acting against the fundamental rights of EU citizens”, and asks everyone to support a European Blog Action.

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”.

Which leads me to wonder what the Euroblogosphere would look like if Hungarian law were applied elsewhere. Think about it: no Blogactiv.eu, 27etc, Taurillon, FistfulofEuros …? Sorry if I missed some.

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.

Update 1

About a day after this post was published, the Hungarian Presidency blog published the first 3 comments, along with their “what’s the fuss about?” response.

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!

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Comments

  1. Hello David, thanks for dropping by, and thanks for asking an excellent question. Too many blog posts are just repetitions of other bloggers’ opinions, and my post does quote the original Bloggingportal post more than any other source.

    Moreover, as I’m sure you know, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t speak Hungarian.

    However, before posting I did go as close to the source as I could, and read the OSCE’s opinion, as I trust the OSCE to take a more objective view than, say, the people who actually drafted the law!

    Have you read what the OSCE says? They state:

    – “Hungary’s new media law violates OSCE media freedom standards and endangers editorial independence and media pluralism”;

    – that the law “if misused, can silence critical media and public debate in the country”;

    – that the law gives “unusually broad powers to the recently established media authority and media council, which are led exclusively by members supported by the governing party”

    – that this “concentration of power in regulatory authorities is unprecedented in European democracies, and it harms media freedom”

    – that the law’s vagueness makes it “impossible for journalists to know when they are in breach of the law”.

    – and that if the law is violated it can “require journalists to reveal their sources”

    Now, I’d be the first to agree that no country has a perfect media landscape. But the picture painted by the OSCE chills my blood.

    I’m not surprised that the Hungarian Presidency Blog excused himself from the debate as soon as he saw that he was unsuccessfully defending the indefensible.

  2. David,

    The EU is now investigating the law to see whether it is in breach of the treaties. It has drawn fierce criticism from the OSCE, Freedom House, the German government and European and international newspaper publishers’ associations. This isn’t “just another media law.” It’s a big step in the wrong direction.

  3. Dear Metthew,

    thanks for your answer. What I was going to know is that to what extend did you form your opinion on your own.

    I just want oyu to take a look at Hungary’s media and social landscape and you will understand a lot of things. It’s not difficult to say cool things when you are outside, and you are less involved in this whole matter.

    As for the OESC, they can write whatever they want, it’s just an opinion made by people who have never been to Hungary.

    Did this opinion mention that no sanction can be imposed without judicial permission?

  4. Eurogoblin,

    How do you know that it’s a step in a wrong direction? Because you were told so?

    This whole mess is political to a big extent. There are a few million more important things that the European institutions should worry about. For example the autonomy of Hungarians living in Romania, the ethnic conflicts in Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, the effect of the financial crisis on SMEs, the agricultural reform, and to find the way of a deepening integration. And so on.

    This law CAN BE the step in a wrong direction, but can be a good regulator too – just like every law in history. It’s just been passed, no-one knows which scenario will be realized. But in this stage, writing about censorship is simply malice.

  5. Hi David, don’t worry about the name, you wouldn’t be the first! 😉

    I understand it’s never nice to hear your country criticised by an international organisation, and see everyone take that organisation’s views at face value without having any real knowledge of the country under question. The Flemish here in Belgium seem to feel the same way about the Council of Europe.

    On the other hand, I maintain my position that I would “trust the OSCE to take a more objective view than, say, the people who actually drafted the law“. They don’t have sanction power, but Hungary signed up to the OSCE and should honour their commitments to media freedom. That’s how this thing works.

    But it’s just their contribution to the debate. If people in Hungary disagree, there is nothing stopping anyone explaining their perspective. Everyone’s listening – blog comments are open. But we’re not hearing much.

    In this blog I explore how online communications, particularly enabled by social media, can allow for these conversations to take place across the EU.

    Hence my particular interest in how the Hungarian Presidency’s blog would react, as they could have used social media to make those explanations and get the Hungarian government’s views across.

    Their task is complicated by having the Presidency, of course. But I can’t help feeling that they are missing an opportunity.

    So, I welcome your explanation of how Hungary’s media landscape will benefit from this media law. I think most of the people concerned by this law realise that life is ‘a bit more complicated’, so explain it to us.

    But, please, don’t insult our intelligence with lines like “Media freedom is overrated”, “Media needs ‘quality assurance’” (Ugh!) or that “media freedom must be fought to improve freedom of speech” … or is Victor Censorban being ironic?

  6. Dear Mathew,

    of course I’m not going to defend the law at all costs, as I’m not one of those, who adopted the media law. I just say that we have to be patient and see how things work in practice.

    As you may know, a law can be used in either good or bad direction. No matter what kind of law we are talking about, the constitution, the pension law, the media law, the one for social security whatever. You’re right when saying Hungary has obligations, as it is member of many international organisations. But do not believe that these institutions are always infallible. Anyone can be doubtful, anyone can express their fears, but no-one is supposed to call people names, like the fears were facts. Because they are not facts. (For example I have doubts regarding the Union’s economic governance, but I wait what’s going to come out. I’m not quite sure that Europe is moving in the right direction with that issue – sure, I always explain my thoughts, but I’m not going to condemn anything in anticipation.)

    As for our social and media landscape, I ensure you that I’m telling you my own opinion. In contrary to many others.

    The elections of spring 2010 clearly shew us the failure of the former government. What the vast majority of Hungarians wanted is – in one word – change. Now it is supported or opposed by the mainly on political (and not on professional) grounds. It’s bothering that the same (political) concernes keep showing up in the opinions of international institutions too.

    In contrary to all the political criticisms, the truth is that the media act has both good and bad orders.

    Some examples:

    TV-shows with pornographic content before 11 PM will be heavily fined (the so called “reality shows” often promoted themselves by adult materials at prime time). I pesonally like that.

    TV-ads mustn’t be louder than the emission itself. I like that too.

    The president of NMHH can issue decrees regarding for example the frequency fees. I personally don’t like that, because I think this task should belong to the parliament, or to the ministry… But this might end in good things and good regulations too.

    See, this is a framework. If things turn wrong, I’ll be the first to protest. But now we can only witness something, that is new. Neither good, nor bad.

  7. “Now it is supported or opposed by the mainly on political (and not on professional) grounds” is correctly “Now the media act is supported or opposed by mainly on political (and not on professional) grounds”. Sorry. 😉

  8. Dear Matthew, The fact that you have not read the law, but you are blogging on it, makes it more likely to commit mistakes. Two crucial ones:
    1. Bloggingportal or any other blog portal could not be considered media under the new Hungarian law. If you look up the definitions in the law, you can clearly see that it not only requires editing, transmission to the public, information purpose, but also (and this is crucial) the fact that the service is provided for remuneration and as an economic activity. The law actually refers back to article 57 of the TFEU, which has a very well developed case law behind it.
    2. The OSCE opinion dates from early September and was drafted regarding an earlier version of the bill. The law was finally adopted in December 2010.
    I see that many people have picked up on your article and use it as a reference. If you are a serious blogger, you should go back to your Hungarian friend and check this part with him. Keep on criticizing but do it with reason.

  9. I have got myself to finally read the whole text of the media law. (It is on the Hungarian Parliament’s website, but you need to speak the language.) I must say Matthew that your Hungarian green friend has played a trick on you: the law explicitly says in article 181, paragraph 5 that no fines can be levied for breaching the requirement of balanced reporting of significant event. The worst that can happen to you is that you are forced to publish a correction.
    Something that you probably won’t do, as it is not easy to accept if we make foolish errors ourselves.

  10. Converto,

    The OSCE repeated their criticism in December, and their objections are fundamentally unchanged. The law obviously did not undergo enough revision between the draft text and the final bill to satisfy the OSCE.

    As you’ve had the opportunity to read the final bill in Hungarian, perhaps we could ask you some questions? This might be a good opportunity to educate ourselves.

    1. You say Bloggingportal could not be considered media because we receive no economic renumeration. If we added a banner ad to our site, would the law apply to us?

    2. Do you mean that media reporting “insignificant” events (such as the personal life of a minister, say?) can still be fined for being “unbalanced”? As the OSCE argues (albeit, about the draft text):

    “This is one of the traps mentioned above. These provisions would give the regulatory bodies discretionary, indeed arbitrary, powers to sanction content providers, based on their own assessment of whether or not the information distributed by a content provider is “authentic”, “fast”, “accurate”, “ diverse”, “timely”, “objective” and “balanced”. They could also form their own judgment as to which events are, and which are not, “significant” or “important”. All these are imprecise, qualitative criteria which are open to widely differing interpretations.

    Presumably, the full law has cleared this all up?

  11. Seems to me that Eurogoblin is not dealing with “negligible” things, like facts.

    The fact is the media law is not yet in force, so you don’t know how it works in practice. You say, quoting the OSCE paper “these provisions would give the regulatory bodies (…) powers to sanction (…)”.

    What if it would not, and no-one will ever be fined? Will you apologize?

  12. This is the sort of comment stream which keeps me optimistic about the contribution social media – particularly blogging – can make to EU affairs. A huge thankyou to Converto, eurogoblin and David.

    Firstly, @David, if I was Hungarian I wouldn’t be happy to sit back and ‘wait to see what happens’. In other countries, governments do their best to manipulate the media to cast their work in the best possible light and divert attention from their murky deals. But at least it’s supposed to be illegal, which makes it hard for them to do it.

    When one sees a government handing itself such power to suppress and intimidate freedom of expression legally, it would be – frankly – foolish to think they will not use it.

    The international organisations you refer to are very unlikely to have a political bias within Hungary. Accusing them of having one makes Hungary sound isolationist, dictatorial and paranoid.

    Of course, now that the law has been passed, it now becomes that much easier for the ruling party to portray the OSCE in these terms.

    Do bear in mind that Hungary signed up to certain standards. Breaking those promises will only darken the country’s reputation as one which cannot be trusted.

  13. @Converto, you’re right to say, in general, that blogging on a law one has not (cannot) read “makes it more likely to commit mistakes”, but in the specifics you make one or two of your own:

    1) You write that it is “crucial … that the service is provided for remuneration and as an economic activity” for the media to be targeted by the new law, so Bloggingportal is not targeted.

    I look forward to your reply to Eurogoblin’s question regarding the addition to BloggingPortal of banner advertising, and also remind you that I mentioned many sites, not just Bloggingportal.

    Moreover, at least one of them – this one (Blogactiv) – is an economic activity!

    So it would seem impossible – by your own logic – for a site like Blogactiv to exist under Hungarian law. Given that you are commenting on this platform to defend this law, this is more than a little ironic. 😉

    Moreover, please note that this is not a small matter. Blogs and ‘traditional’ news media are converging (see Jon Worth’s recent post: Blogging: the new mainstream), so this law represents a significant muzzling of what should be a flourishing media, a channel for free expression and a source of economic, cultural and personal growth.

    2) As Eurogoblin pointed out, the revision to the law has not changed the OSCE’s opinion. They seem to have based their recent announcements on an analysis of the law just passed.

    So these first two specific arguments are holed.

    3) However, your last point (balanced reporting) is probably the most interesting one – I look forward to your reply to Eurogoblin’s comment.

    PS I think you’ll generally find that bloggers are far more likely to correct their own posts – and widely publicise the fact – than any other form of media. It’s a good way of establishing their crediblity and developing the trust of their readers. More on this in Old media, new media and Mr Bean.

    PPS As for my inability to read Hungarian legal texts, you’ll find plenty of posts here on the challenges multilingualism poses to the European online public space.

  14. David,

    Err… you’re arguing that no-one will ever be fined by the new law?

    Apparently, there is also a problem with the OSCE’s use of “would” instead of “could.” Neither verb choice indicates that the new media council will definitely abuse its new powers. But that’s not the point, is it? We can say there is definitely a need to maintain legal checks and balances in a democratic system (including sufficient protection of media from government, so they feel able to say what the government does not like). That also means independent institutions (something apparently under threat in Hungary). One cannot say “there is no need to scrutinise and object to legal powers in theory because the government is unlikely to abuse them in practice.”

    Which is why your “wait and see” approach is not good enough.

  15. Converto,

    You mention Article 181, but I can’t seem to find it. I’m sure it exists; this is probably because it’s not in the main document I’m looking at. We’re talking about the so-called Media Constitution (Act CIV of 2010), right? This document here?

    Thing is, it doesn’t actually have an Article 181. I fully understand that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means that a link would be appreciated! There are two other laws I’m checking – CIII of 2010 and LXXXII of 2010. Neither have an Article 181 that I’ve been able to find so far…

    Help would be appreciated!

  16. Dear Mathew,

    I totally respect your opinion. What you expressed in your last comment are nothing less and nothing more but your fears, which are welcome to talk about. As I stated earlier, concernes doesn’t empower anybody to call other people names.

    Please note that I didn’t say that any international organisation is supporting Hungarian political messages. But I did note that it will be difficult to gain the public support for the OSCE’s and Freedom House’s opinion, because these arguments have been made political.

    EuroGoblin,

    I don’t know how many press organs will be fined, if any. I’m sure there will be some, just like before.

    —–

    I wish all of you a happy new year!

  17. And a happy new year to both of you.

    I don’t recall calling anyone names, but I apologise if you feel offended by my opinions, and thank you for the respect you show them. I feel the same way regarding yours, and accept my ignorance of Hungary’s affairs doesn’t make me the best commenter on this subject.

    But it is incorrect to call my last comment “nothing more than fears”.

    It’s not fear. It’s certainty. European countries have learnt the Hard Way what happens when media freedom is suppressed. What I (and probably others) feel is not fear of what might happen, but dread at what almost certainly will happen.

    While I wouldn’t trust any government with such power, this mistrust runs doubly deep with the government that gave itself such power.

  18. Dear Eurogoblin, dear Matthew, Good questions, trying to answer them based on my understanding of the law. First, I agree with Matthew that these discussions create the added value of blogging.
    1. definition of media: the media law refers back to Article 56-57 of the TFEU on service providing. The TFEU says that services are all economic activities provided for remuneration which are not considered as sale of goods, etc. I am not an expert on ECJ case law but I am sure this is a well defined legal notion. anyone more knowledgeable on ECJ could help us ut here, when is something considered a service provided for remuneration. In my personal opinion bloggingportal would not fall under the scope, but if blogactive is related to euractiv, as it seems to me, then it is an economic activity, has editorial oversight and is definitely a part of a news site, so it would fall under the scope. And this makes sense to me as I look at euractiv as media in Hungary.
    2. fines: It is the opposite: 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!
    3. fines: 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. This fining issue is a complex story, if interested I can go into it in a different comment.

    Eurogoblin, I can’t open your link, but I see that it is some kind of a law research site. You must be looking at the wrong thing as the media law has more than 200 articles. + One should not forget to look at the so called media constitution law (quite short, with basic principles, which has been adopted in November). This is often referred to in the law.
    The media law has not yet been signed by the president, so what I did was looking at the original proposal and the amendments passed by the Parliament on the Parliament’s website. (Quite time consuming.) If it is signed into law, it will appear in the official bulletin and I can give you the link to that. That will be the binding source to work from.

    Your questions are quite stimulating to me, I would have never researched this thing without your article, so let’s carry on.
    And a final caveat: The fact that the law does not contain outrageous provisions, does not mean that everything is well in Hungary regarding media. Both the socialists and the current government are using and misusing media and there is practically no independent reporting in the country. But this is an older and more deeply rooted problem.

  19. @Converto, @Eurogoblin, Many thanks for this research.

    I’ve just updated this post to highlight the most recent comments, as otherwise a typical visitor would never see them, which would be a shame as they are both interesting and more informative than anything else I’ve read so far on this issue.

    Converto, would it be possible for you to tell us who you are? Understand it that’s not possible, but anonymous commenters always have a credibility issue.

    And does anyone know of a translation of the law?

    Finally, an apology for having taken Victor Censorban seriously, above. He’s actually a satirical creation by a fellow BloggingPortal editor. I should not have missed his post, although people outside the bubble could probably be forgiven.

  20. Hello everyone,

    it was very interesting so read your whole discussion. I’m both insider and outsider, I’m a German expat in Hungary with basic to advanced Hungarian knowledge, but it’s not sufficient for example to read the media law and understand it completely. So far, I have not come across a complete translation, so that would be very interesting.

    Regarding the application of the law, Tilos Radio seems to be to be fined, as was reported during the last days. Now this is a minor station and the given reason (explicit lyrics during day time) is maybe exaggerated but acceptable. Since the incidence occured already in September, it’s at least questionable if the the new law is used retro-actively.

    Then there was the article by Népszabadság which commented on the power of the head of the media council, and she asked the newspaper for a correction, which was refused, and in my opinion rightly so. But since two days, this couldn’t be easily refused. In such a case, the media council becomes prosecutor and judge in one person, and that is definitely not working by democratical standards.

    Even if there is no fine in some cases but only the need to publish “corrections”, this could become a serious problem for a newspaper. Népszabadság could publish all free opinions they want and would need the same amount of paper for next day’s corrections. I don’t expect this to happen, but in theory, it could. And to have a law where it depends on the personnel in the council whether it is applied moderately or extremely, is in my eyes already a mistake.

    As for Körösi Davids comment on Hungary’s media landscape – it is more or less balanced. During Orbán’s first government term until eight years ago, the majority was on the left side. But after Orbán famous complaint that the right wing was naked, without any own media, the picture has changed a lot, and there are several publications, radio and TV stations which can be identified as conservative. With the changes within the state TV and radio you might even say that the right wing media is in the majoriy now. And in my opinion, it’s not good political taste or intuition to promote the co-founder of a gang of antisemitic, right extremist motorbikers to head of the public radio station MR2. But that’s a different topic again.

  21. Hey Rigó, I think your point about “the media council becomes prosecutor and judge” is spot on.

    If this is indeed the case – and it appears so – then there can be no pretence of independent media regulation.

    Thanks for sharing your ‘expat in Hungary’ perspective! And what’s this about an anti-semite extremist motorbiker promoted to head a public radio station?? I know it’s off topic, but do have a link?

  22. Well balanced media landscape says the expat living in the “mainly english speaking” expat circle of Budapest. I literally laughed my head off… Really, all the “big guns” in Hungarian media are still controlled by the post socialist oligarchs. Socialist media: Nepszabadság, Népszava, index.hu, hirszerzo.hu, HVG, RTL, TV2 just to name a the few biggest one in the country. On the right wing: Magyarnemzet, Hetiválasz, Hir Tv, these are “water psitols” compering to the other brunch. Also before citing Népszabadság, as the “biggest circulating daily” as a trustworthy resource study it’s shameful past (especially in the period of 1945-1989) those media workers (I can’t say Journalists) are still censored by the Socialist party! Also keep in mind the Hungarian political class and the media not the younger, fresher brother of the West Europian. Both areas are still deeply infected by Kadarist functionaries, and agents (no matter left or right and also contra selected by far better wages in the for-profit sector. Of course the Media Low is wrong and Annamaria Szalai is a joke, but it’s clearly Hungary’s inner affair a case of Soveregnity so back your dogs and as the Hungarian proverb says: Sweep by your own house!

  23. Kedves Gyúrky,

    Remélem hogy a fejed még a nyakadon marad, mert sajnálnám ha az én kommentárom miatt most még egy Magyar kevésebb lenne a tíz millióból.

    This just to show you that I speak Hungarian, just not on the highest level. And I can assure you that I am not living in English speaking expat circles, I don’t even know any of them personally, the same is true for the German circles. I have a Hungarian wife and mainly Hungarian friends. And yes, this discredits me, my father in law is a retired Néspszabadság journalist. I say journalist, because he’s writing with compassion, and I can assure you that he’s not censored.

    As well as you are joking about my assumed background and laughing your head off, I could ask whether you speak from experience: Do you know any left journalists personally? Have you personally experienced the censorship by the MSZP or do you have any written proof? Because this is a quite serious statement you make there. I might inform Mrs. Szalai and ask for a correction from your side…

    English speaking expats might rather get the feeling that the media is heavy on the left side, since the all hungary media group has quite critical reports. But as I say, I think it’s rather balanced. And neither heavy on the right, as some even complain. Maybe Magyar Nemzet doesn’t have the same volume as Népszabadság, and Hetiválasz is not on the same level as HVG (which would be on which side, please?). But they are freely available to everbody, as are the TV- and radiostations. And I always like to mention the Helyi téma, which of course is not a serious newspaper. It’s rather a very plumb Fidesz propaganda paper, the owner even openly admits this. But it’s for free and distributed into every household. Now this I call a good coverage.

    Of course, Kádárists you find in every party and on all sides of the spectrum, there are enough of them at Fidesz and KDNP, too, I assume. To get completely rid of them, you will have to wait for 30 to 40 more years.

    As for the so often heard argument, that this media law is a purely Hungarian topic and none of the business of the rest of Europe or the world. You’re wrong, in the EU this is not only a Hungarian topic. And even if it were, my flat is here in Zugló, so I’m doing right now what you asked me for: I’m sweeping by my own house. Sorry that I do this in English, which is in opposite to Hungarian a language which the rest of the world understands.

  24. Sorry, just one afterthought, Gyúrky. Népszabadság is controlled by a post socialist oligarch, you say? I wonder what the Suiss Ringier group thinks about that, which is acutally the owner of Népszabadság. Laughing my head off. 🙂

  25. Gyúrky, Rigó, I feel quite privileged to have you two battling it out on my blog! As long as you keep it civil, of course. And thanks a lot for using English.

    I am completely unqualified to comment on who is right or wrong when it comes to Hungary’s media landscape, so all I can note is that every country I’ve lived in is unique in this regard (I’m a British-Australian with Irish roots living in Belgium, and like Rigó, I am not a typical expat – my wife and kids are Belgian, as are most of my friends).

    The only thing I feel qualified to say is that Gyúrky is wrong that this is an internal-to-Hungary matter. You’re in the EU, and right now you’re handling its Presidency. As Slugger O’Toole puts it:

    Hungary is for the next 6 months, the “face” of the European Union, the country holding its presidency. That fact doesn’t put the European Union on the strongest of moral foundations the next time it wishes to complain about press freedom in Belarus, China, Russia, the list unfortunately goes on and on.
    Draconian press laws in the EU’s new Presidency, Slugger O’Toole

    But the problem will remain after July. Being an EU Member means making commitments to the rest of the EU on a huge number of issues. Including nurturing a strong democracy. Most people feel that – no matter what the media landscape is in Hungary – this media law will not help nurture Hungarian democracy.

  26. Kedves Pelikán/Rigó Elvtárs!

    Better stay with english, My name is with a long ö ( very interestingly seems like .eu does not support all member states character sets, what a surprise…). One of the main problem is that everybody is so keen on natzi crimes during WWII, what is very important but nobody cares of the crimes of the communists/socialists afterwards. If they would than you would not be proud to merry into a communist family, having a father in low who was faithfully or not but serving the communists. Benefitting from reporting other families, taking their flats, killing or sending them to force labor camps etc… Working at a communist era paper not qualify you to be a journalist only to a communist criminal! But you also must have come from East Germany, juts for those who do not understand Hungarian this nice well educated person in his former post in the most communist commissar manners was wishing me to tear my head of in the most rude, working class formal way as I could figure out from the grammatical disaster… That shows how pointless to argue or debate with the left, if you do not share their opinion they try to trash you, attack personally, tag you as an idoit/natzi whatever… Unlike you I wish you a pleasant stay in our now free from the communist plaque, Conservative and Christian Country (take it or leave it). Try our health care, there are very good specialist in Budapest for both mental and behavior problems! Btw I know media workers from the left I used to work a 10-15 years ago for mtv, been involved in radio tilos and been a news editor at index.hu. So I know “the guns for hire” (and also what it means who namely owning Népszabadság and what’s the real deal honey), later I went to make money in advertising so now I’m writing it from next to the Castle. The thing when the referendum was taking place Eu was sold as a trade+tax+transport union, there was not a single word about little by little destroy the hard earned sovereignty of it’s national states and drifting into some sort of nordic liberal lucid dream of the United States of Europe. No Thanks. And it’s not the matter of the low is good or bad, the thing is the inner issues of Hungary non of your business, it’s our problem we’ll sort it out! If you know Hungarian History you know we survived the Mongolian, the Turkish, the Habsburg and lately the Soviet oppression so the former economical colonization and now political and ideological oppression of the EU won’t stand long either, the more you force it the sooner you lost hold of us! Anyway we try to force the government to make a referendum about departing from the EU if you treat our government this way it will not be hard to convince them. So be tough wit Mr. Orban and thank you for the help! LoL

  27. Györky,

    Good debate – you raise some interesting points. However, you are wrong to say “it’s clearly Hungary’s inner affair, a case of Sovereignty so back your dogs and as the Hungarian proverb says: Sweep by your own house!”

    The EU is absolutely a trade + transport union (to a certain extent there is harmonisation of taxes, but it is certainly not a tax union – as I am suddenly very aware of moving to Brussels from the UK). However, the EU also represents a commitment to democracy, freedom of speech and rule-of-law. It is the responsibility of Hungary to preserve those values within its borders, but it is ALSO the responsibility of all members of the EU to ensure that press freedom is not threatened in any other member-state.

    It is a requirement of EU membership to have a free media and strong multi-party democracy. Furthermore, as an EU citizen I can travel and work in Hungary if I so choose. I am, to a certain extent, (because of my citizenship of the EU) also a Hungarian citizen and have a right to take an interest in what happens in Hungary (just as you, as an EU citizen, have a right to take an interest in what happens in the UK).

    I mean: I can move to Hungary and vote in local and European elections (not general elections)! I can stand as a CANDIDATE in local elections in Hungary! So, I think I have a right to help “sweep Hungary’s house” if I think it is getting too dusty. 😉

  28. One last thing – the Hungarian Presidency of the EU is representing ME as a citizen of the EU, as well as all Hungarians. If Hungary’s image is damaged because of this media law, it will be harder to put pressure on other countries that have much worse media laws (such as Belarus). I take a strong interest for this reason as well.

    Finally: the English-translated text of the law is available here: http://www.nmhh.hu/index.php?id=hir&cid=13214

  29. Joe,

    Probably if you are a citizen in West Europe EU represents you and your interests, if you are East European it’s certainly not. “commitment to democracy, freedom of speech and rule-of-law” are luxuries of wealthy western states what we cannot effort simply. On the other hand I do not even know why I bother with the EU most Hungarians does not even care. So I do not waste any more time on EU I rather put my energies to the civic work dismissing and annulling EU membership!

  30. Györky,

    For someone so correctly filled with rage about what happens in a country devoid of human rights (e.g., Hungary in the Soviet past), it’s bizarre that you think that a “commitment to democracy, freedom of speech and rule-of-law” is not for Hungary today!

    These are not only for rich states … but are essential to becoming a rich state. Without them, you’ll end up with a society remarkably similar to the tragedy you described.

    Did you have this opinion of the EU before the criticisms “from Brussels” started?

    PS The EU has nothing to do with defining character sets.

  31. Dear Gy&#337rky,

    The &#337 is a simple matter of unicode-usage in HTML and has nothing to do with the domain on which a site is hosted. You could have the same effect on .hu, but that wouldn’t fit into your world image, I guess.

    Translation of my “grammatical desaster” as it was intended and understood by at least two natives which I asked to read it:

    I hope your head is still on your neck, because I would be sorry if it was because of my comment that there is one Hungarian less in the ten million.

    I don’t see where I made such a big mistake that you could have understood it in such a way as you state in your post. You can even put it into Google-translator, and the intended meaning comes out. I don’t even see the grammatical desaster, except for the conjunctive about which I wasn’t sure if it really is indicated with “-ám”. But let’s not waste space with the discussion of Hungarian grammer.

    I have not called you a nazi, and I have not insulted you in any other way, I hope. So why do you address me with Elvtárs (english: comrad)? Please elaborate on the connection with the film “A tanú” and the protagonist Pelikán József. I haven’t seen this film, and I am sure neither has Matthew. If there is something to laugh about, I’d like to know.
    Why do you lie about the content of the Hungarian sentence I wrote, why do you mention the capability of the health care system regarding mental and behaviour problems? I wonder where your need for ad-hominem insults comes from. I can assure you that they don’t back your real arguments, they rather weaken them. You’re as angry and irrational as Bayer Zsolt in his already infamous newspaper comment two days ago, where he was sorry that not all communists where slaughtered and hastily buried in the forests during the white terror.

    Please explain to me, since you say that the left media is terribly stronger than the right and you know “the guns for hire”, how it comes that 2/3 of the voters made their cross for Fidesz and KDNP, the current government, during the spring elections? Either all people eagerly read Népszabadság and Népszava just to become angry about the content and then voted for Fidesz. That would be a waste of money for newspapers, but who knows. Or it’s more like the right wing media caught up during the last years and is now read and believed by enough people for the conservatives to win the elections. Of course, winning the elections is not only about media influence, but if everybody would be in line with Orbán, who the heck is then still reading Népszabadság in large numbers? And btw, could you elaborate on your statement about the “real deal” with Népszabadság? I’m always eager to learn, and it would be interesting to learn about deals between Suiss business men and Hungarian communists. Or did you just throw this in to brush off my argument without offering something better?

    Guess what: Both my grandfathers were fighting for the Wehrmacht, they were both Nazis. So what should I do about that? They changed their attitude and regreted their actions and believes during the 3. Reich. Only the leaders were prosecuted. The same is true for the GDR: Those people who were responsible for the dead at the border, those who were responsible for inhumane acts during the regime, where punished. And of course, everybody can find out who was a spy for the Stasi security, and these people are shunned from public offices. In Hungary, the documents from the communist time are still secret and closed. Once in a while some information leaks, but large in large, nobody has proof who was a spy and who not. No government wanted to work on this issue, because their own people could be compromized. Please notice that this is true for all governments, also for the conservative governments before the eight years of MSZP. Now the current government even wants to destroy the archives and hand out the documents to all the victims which has been spyed on.
    What I aim at: Working at a newspaper during Kádár-times doesn’t qualify you automatically as a criminal, and neither does NOT working in any position in media or communist party. Only the files from the secret archives could really tell who was a villain, who was cheating on friends and colleagues.

    Discussing the membership in the EU is already far away from the original topic of Mathew’s post, but whatever…
    G&#337rky, you say no Hungarian cares about the EU? Please do some investigations about the “Új Magyarország” or the “Új Széchenyi terv” – wherever you see a big post on a construction site which mentions these infractural programmes, the European flag is there for a reason. You may say you don’t care about that money from the EU, Hungary will be able to survive without it. But I imagine that the construction workers and companies who profit from this money see it in a different way.
    The referendum on the membership in the EU took place in 1997, and 85% voted with yes. The trade+tax+transport union you talk about was one of the first steps in the European unification process, about fourty years ago, beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community. 13 years ago, though, the EU was already much more than that, and you must have hidden your head very deep in sand if you didn’t realize this at that time.

  32. I’ll bring the unicode issue up with the Blogactiv team – it must be frustrating not being able to write correctly in your own language, even if the vast majority of your audience here wouldn’t spot any errors!

    In the meantime I have to write ‘Györky’, which I copied from your first comment. I look forward, Györky, to your reply to the above comments, but I ask that you refrain from calling anybody a nazi, or a communist, or a spy. You don’t know any of these people, so you cannot possibly know that about them.

    Moreover, flinging insults about massively weakens the user’s position. Resorting to such tactics convinces readers that your arguments are not strong enough to stand on their own (even if they are), and that you realise it yourself. So do yourself a favour and stay polite and respect other people even when they don’t agree with you.

  33. As I mentioned before that’s impossible to debate with communists/socialists so I will not.
    But anybody really believes that that during communism working the communist party’s own news paper, a relative well payed job with privileged housing, car usage and the allowance to travel abroad is possible without having a good “Káder lap” (communist records of citizens), without being highly involved into the communist propaganda machine (in other words being a communist criminal)? If You do so, it only proves that you have zero experience with communism “in action” and no knowledge of East European general, what is honestly not a big surprise…

  34. You’re absolutely right that I know little of living under communism or of Eastern Europe. But that’s not the issue being discussed. Governments of all political colours and styles suppress media freedom – it’s not a left/right issue at all. It’s a democracy/authoritarianism issue.

    When you say “anybody really believes that (insert story of communism corruption here)“, well, nobody said it!. The Hungarian presidency did something similar on their blog – putting words into their opponents’ mouths that they never said, in order to distract from their real arguments.

    Did I claim that things were not horrible under communism? No – quite the opposite! I wrote (my emphases):

    For someone so correctly filled with rage about what happens in a country devoid of human rights (e.g., Hungary in the Soviet past), it’s bizarre that you think that a “commitment to democracy, freedom of speech and rule-of-law” is not for Hungary today!

    Or perhaps you not actually bothering to read what anyone else says here? That would make sense, as you have yet to respond to this or any of the other points raised.

    Instead, you’ve decided that as we disagree with you, we must be communists and socialists, and so are impossible to have a discussion with.

    Sorry, but I’m neither communist nor socialist. I just believe in freedom of speech. This is definitely not a position monopolised by the left. The most passionate defenders of free speech are generally found on the American right wing.

  35. nop, i did not decided anything. i was just wondering why all the western media attacked the Hungarian government without even knowing what’s in the low, blindly trusting the socialist resources whining about it. even the Prime Minister admitted today, that if the EU investigation will find the low needs correction, they will correct it, but they will not do it to socialist feed media pressure. also the other interesting point. my utterance saying no way to debate with socialists/communists was addressed to somebody else. the thing is I do not even speak to those socialist members of my own family who’s been involved to the “party” until they not properly tried at the Court for communist crimes against Humanity. it’s no joke communism caused more damage in East Europe than Natzism did! unfortunately I cannot cite Margaret Tacher words exactly but somewhere she wrote, we (the west) are underestimating the damage of communism made in the people of East Europe. consider it. also it’s quite clear that EU does not equal measures. EU stopped criticizing Mr. Putyins politics as soon as “he” raised the gas price, and there is zero criticism toward Zapateros ill socialist regime, so the measures are different toward left and right east and west within the EU quite transparently.

  36. Personally, I don’t see the ‘western socialist media’ attacking a law they know nothing about. I’m not saying it’s not being attacked by the media, I’m just saying that what I see are:
    – the OSCE analysing the law and finding it: I’ve already quoted from and linked to their opinion, so I won’t repeat myself.
    – bloggers like me (and I’m sure the media) reporting the OSCE’s opinion
    – several governments criticising it

    Neither the OSCE nor the governments could be said to be ‘socialist resources’. I’m sure Mr Sarkozy will be surprised to find himself described as a socialist …

    Most governments in the EU are right-of-centre for the moment, actually, while the right-of-centre EPP is the largest group in the European Parliament. The Commission’s composition reflects these trends.

    So you’re still painting the law’s critics – and the EU in general – as things they are not in order to demonise them, and therefore dodge the fact that commenters of all political hues find that this law is Just Plain Wrong.

    You could probably make fair point to be made regarding double measures, you miss the target: Russia is not in the EU!

    EU Member States and the EU Institutions therefore have much less right to have an opinion there as they do when the country concerned signed the EU Treaty. And Spain? Is there a repressive media law there?

    As for who was worst – nazis or communists – that’s utterly irrelevant to the discussion, as said before. Sad to hear about your family rifts. Hope things heal for you. Free tip: hatred makes lousy medicine.

  37. Mathew, sorry for the previous double-t… 🙂

    Of course, Mr. or Mrs. Györky is aiming his comment at me, not at you, setting up a nice strawman, as if I would support all things done by communists. He’s assuming a lot of things which are wrong in my case and in the case of my father-in-law, but I think it wouldn’t make a big difference to tell him that I would lable myself “social liberal”. It will not make him answer the questions I raised.
    And of course it’s his right to refuse to debate. That’s the style of Fidesz. For eight years the current prime minister Orbán, though member of parliament and receiving a salary for this, hardly set foot into parliament, because he was afraid to debate his nemesis Gyurcsány. Instead, he rather took the battle to the streets. Of course Györky will see this different and tell you so.
    And about my father-in-law: There was no privileged housing for my Hungarian family and only a private crappy Trabant. There was privileged holidays for them, though, at the journalists’ holiday home at Balaton. Makes the whole family really evil, I guess. My father-in-law was even forbidden to attend university for several years, because he took part in the 1956 uprising. But I know that Györky will brush this aside and find another reason why not to discuss with me. So enough about this topic.

    The problem that Hungary faces today can be witnessed in comment XXX: “Unlike you I wish you a pleasant stay in our now free from the communist plaque, Conservative and Christian Country (take it or leave it).” Did I say that I don’t wish him a good stay in Hungary? Well, anyways…

    A country doesn’t become conservative because the current government is conservative. A country has inhabitants with a lot of political colours, there are conservative christians, liberals, socialists, religious, atheists, heteros and homos.
    The current Hungarian prime minister is convinced, though, that it took Hungary about twenty years to come to its mind, and now it will be conservative forever. And to make sure that this really becomes true, the government took already several measures, of which the media law is just a small brick in the wall. I hope that the attention that Hungary receives due to the media law and due to the council presidency will not fade away too fast, so that Europe will have a closer look at the new constitution, which is currently composed behind closed doors. I’m sure it will be worth a look.

    Those who voted for the conservatives often have the same attitude, they don’t see the past elections as one change of several more to come in the long run, but they see these elections as the final decision. Am I right, Györky? No more need for democracy, now we’re here. We cannot afford rule-of-law, press freedom or democracy, because it’s luxury. It’s seems luxury to them to leave the “enemy” the possibility to re-gain power…

    This lack of political culture and understanding of democracy maybe really can be blamed on the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. It’s part of the damage that Györky talks about, which also affects him or her. And twenty years were not enough to educate people, especially because Western Europe didn’t pay too much attention. They were happy to have business partners with a democratic appearance, the real state of mind of the nations didn’t really matter much.

    If you dig into the topic and search for news about Hungary during the last 8 months, Mathew, you will see that the media law really is only part of the whole picture. But maybe you will not find much more news, except for red mud in Ajka, because Europe didn’t care very much. Neither did they care about the media bill, which was discussed for months. Only when it became law, they hastily protested.

  38. Mathew, you asked about a link regarding the new head of MR2. I only have Hungarian links, and this German one with “nice” pictures of that people:

    http://pusztaranger.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/neuer-chefredakteur-des-staatlichen-radios-m2-bei-den-rechtsextremen-bikern/

    MR2 is part of the state media, a radio station with rather independent rock and pop, not mainstream, but not as far off as the now punished Tilos Radio (forbidden radio). They have an interesting mixture of international and Hungarian pop music. http://www.mr2.hu

    And to make Györky really angry, I can recommend the following blog, which is detested by all Fidesz supporters. Yes, it is sometimes biased, but most statements are backed by facts. And it’s in English:

    http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/

  39. Just to pick up on the idea that only the ‘socialist/communists media’ are criticising Hungary’s media law, the most important criticisms I have heard of are from:
    – the French Govt (quite right wing, many would say)
    – the German Govt (centre right)
    – the UK Gov’t (a centre right coalition led by the UK’s Conservative Party)
    – the Luxembourg Govt (centre-right)

    And now the Economist has weighed in, probably the most neo-liberal publication I’ve ever read, and definitely, definitely not socialist!

    “Mr Orban might get away with his claim that the provisions are drawn from the laws of other democracies. But his action looks worryingly like the latest in a campaign to weaken independent institutions and centralise power. … Would a country on such a path be allowed to join the EU? Probably not.”

    Hungary’s other deficit, the Economist

    Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkey, the Economist … that’s quite a left wing conspiracy, Györky! 😉

    Rigó, welcome back, and thanks for the links, the personal history and the rest. The Economist article shows that this whole sorry affair has raised awareness that the EU lacks realistic, usable tools to keep Member States to the standards required to join.

    On a personal level, I can also report that this story has led me – and I believe many other people – to take a closer look at what else has been going on in Hungary.

    However, this is all due to the conjunction of a media-oriented law being passed just as the Presidency is taken on. If it had been some other law, I doubt there would have been such an outcry. And if they had left it on the shelf for 6 months, again, noone would have taken much notice.

    But it has happened, and we can only hope that it leads to some structural initiatives to track all EU Member States’ commitment to the EU’s core values.

    Hungary is certainly not the only offender – they certainly do have the worst timing.

  40. Rigó!

    If you hate Hungarians so much that you only could trash them why don’t you pack your bags and communist family and go back to Germany and continue your wrong doing in your own homeland?

    Mathew!

    I did not talked about left wing conspiracy. I’ve just told the foreign press was without any critic been attacking based on the Socalist Nepszabadsag and other socialist resources. Besides it’s Hungary’s own business – period.

  41. Wohooo. I’m new here. Hopefuly starting a blog soon. Joe advised me to check out this topic. Interesting argument. Györky’s style of debate is a “diamond in rough” at best. But no matter style as a fellow Hungarian I fully agree with him, of course he should ware the PC mussel. Of course the victims of communist after being tortured or working in the stone mines were writing the communist propaganda into the partys (shamefully still existing) Népszabadság about the new advancements on the Leninian Road! That’s realistic. But good thing we know from former PM and socialist oligarch Mr. Gyurcsany, socialists/liberals newer lies! LoL But unfortunately Györky has the point, with people lying night and day impossible to argue!

  42. @Györky, You write that “the foreign press was without any critic been attacking based on the Socalist Nepszabadsag and other socialist resources.”

    Yet, as I pointed out (repeatedly), the western media is basing its opinion on what the OSCE and right-wing governments are saying. And why?

    Because we can’t read Hungarian! How are we supposed to be influenced by Socalist Nepszabadsag if we can’t read it?

    @Matyó, welcome to the discussion!

    I find it ironic that in defending a law which suppresses media freedom, you complain about a Politically Correct muzzle …

    That’s just like @Györky, describing how awful it was in communist-era Hungary, while defending a media law the Kremlin would have liked.

    Can neither of you see the irony?

    Anyway, there’s no PC here: just try to keep it civil and never get personal. That way you’ll gain respect for yourself and your views. Do the opposite and you just look like a Pyjama Person.

    Good luck with your blog!

  43. Mathew, you’re welcome.

    Györky, where in my lines did you read that I hate Hungarians? I wouldn’t live in this country if I wouldn’t love it. And that’s the reason for my criticism. But civilized political discurse is something unknown to you, as I see. You put words into my mouth that I never said resp. wrote, you are attacking me and my family personally without knowing them and their background, and, most important, you avoid answering questions.

    Let’s see…

    1. Do you have any proof of today’s censorship in Népszabadság? What, to your knowledge, is the “real deal” between the Swiss and the management of Népszabadság? In my opinion, a foreign ownership minimizes the political influence on a newspaper, so please let us know why this is not the case here.

    2. How come that the strong left media wasn’t able to change the outcome of both national and local elections in 2010? If they are so strong as you say, this should not have happened?

    3. Why are democracy, rule-of-law and freedom of speech luxuries for Eastern Europe, that cannot be afforded?

    4. Did you always think about the EU as you do now, or only since they critize Hungary for the media law and the househould deficit? So what did you vote for in 1997? Yes or no?

    So many easy questions, so many polemics instead of answers. It’s easy to put me into the socialist corner and deny me any civilized conversation. That’s what Orbán did during the last years, too. And don’t give me the crap “with people lying night and day impossible to argue”.

    I have an additional question for both Matyó Motyó and Györky: 5. Has anyone of you ever read the complete speech that Gyurcsány held on that day in May 2006? Or do you only know the part about the lies?

    It would be a refreshing change to get some answers from Györky and not only polemic defamation. Or remains your only answer “period”? Very democratic indead, you proof my thesis then.

    As about my personal wrong doings, I’m eager to hear from you what they might be. Speaking out my opinion? Is that wrong doing? I hope then, that you will never become member of the media council. 🙂

  44. And talking about the “enemy”, here’s another link for Mathew, directly to the homepage of Népszabadság, with a very long and elaborate analysis of the Hungarian situation, in English. Of course it is biased and has been censored by the party before going into print. The editors discuss all sensible topics every evening together with the party leader Mesterházy and their Swiss owners during an ample cheese fondue…

    http://nol.hu/janos_kornai__taking_stock

  45. Matthew,

    Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as it happens) you have had a glimpse at the illogical knee-jerk reaction of Fidesz and their supporters to any criticism regarding their policy on any subject whatsoever.

    Press freedom (as Mr Orban and many of the ex-dissidents in Fidesz should know better than anyone) IS NOT right-left issue. You either believe in it or you don’t.

    I’m not a communist, none of family are communists, we did not vote for MSZP at the election. We do believe in democracy and that democracy’s job is to protect everyone in society.

  46. Hi Csaba, and welcome to the discussion. This is my first experience with any Hungarian situation, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen on this blog the sort of tactics and attitude on display above.

    Putting words into an opponent’s mouths, twisting them to score cheap points, attacking people personally when the discussion turns badly, telling foreigners to “Go Home if you don’t like it” … Fidesz has no monopoly on this sort of behaviour, as my experience with Eurosceptics when Blogactiv launched amply illustrates.

    As I posted back then, such Pyjama People will not be convinced by rational argument nor show much in the way of respect to anyone else … but it’s important to not descend to the same tactics, as the other readers can make up their own mind.

  47. @Mathew,

    you mentioned that you didn’t recall calling anyone names. You did call our PM “Viktor Censorban”. That wasn’t nice and that wasn’t of a European manner at all.

    As for the Kremlin would like the media act, it’s simply not true. This act is not about being communist, but about a desire for new media regulations in Hungary. I have to repeat myself: let’s see how it works and please do not jump to conclusions.

    And a question to all those, who think that Hungary is off the European track. In Slovakia the Benes-decrets are in force, which still brands Hungarians collectively as war criminals. Yes, you read it right, it is still in force. Don’t you guys want to protest against that?

    I hope all of you agree that being fined for not being correct is nothing compared to being a war criminal in 2011.

  48. No, the name Victor Censorban was invented by someone else on Twitter. As I explained in comment XXIII, I took it seriously but then realised that it was a spoof, and retracted it. Go on, scroll up if you don’t believe me …

    You’re absolutely right that Hungary is not alone in having doubtful legislation. As I said in comment XLIV, above (do you ever read comments other than your own?):

    “… this is all due to the conjunction of a media-oriented law being passed just as the Presidency is taken on. If it had been some other law, I doubt there would have been such an outcry. And if they had left it on the shelf for 6 months, again, noone would have taken much notice.

    But it has happened, and we can only hope that it leads to some structural initiatives to track all EU Member States’ commitment to the EU’s core values. Hungary is certainly not the only offender – they certainly do have the worst timing.

    However, this is also an irrelevant, flawed argument. One does not say “Well, it may be criminal, but there’s crime elsewhere, so let’s ignore it” – that’s a sure route to more and more criminality.

  49. Errrr……..

    I’ve had a few weeks off, so unfortunately I missed most of the discussion. Although I tried to catch up, but there must be a few parts I have failed to notice. Sorry for that.

    Thanks for your comment anyway.

    At least I know now that if we weren’t the presidents, you would be in quiet.

  50. Yes, I’ve not had such an active comments stream since launching Blogactiv.

    As someone said, somewhere far above, Hungary now represents the EU internationally via the Presidency, so it’s not an internal matter. You’re representing Us Europeans.

    Shared EU Values is, of course, tricky territory, but as Ralf Grahn points out (here and here, there are legally codified standards which Hungary and others have signed up to.

    So while it’s probably true that we would not have noticed this law if Hungary had introduced it some other time, that doesn’t make it any more legal.

  51. If I’m not mistaken, a debate is going on within the Commission in these hours. This it’s only the first step to investigate the media law. We’re just at the beginning of the process of finding out what’s legal.

    As for Hungary represents the EU, yes. Slovakia will represent the EU too, in the second half of 2016. Pressure needs time, so it’s high time to start to force them repeal those decrees. I’m waiting for the international action. 😉

    I recommend you this article below. You might get a more subtle view of the whole Hungarian political landscape.

    http://www.euractiv.com/en/future-eu/fidesz-mep-west-projecting-its-own-frustrations-hungary-interview-501136

    (Sorry, I’m not that expert to know how to make short links. I’ll be trying to find out.)

  52. Mathew, you’re welcome, I’m happy to have helped creating some traffic! 🙂

    And David, thanks for showing that not all Hungarian argue like Mr. Györky. Of course I know this, since I live in the middle of Budapest. But after this strange discussion my conclusion was that people like him have an even worse influence on the outside image of Hungary than the media law itself…

    There are many discussions whether the new media law is in accordance with European law, and I’m sure the commission will make a clear decision on this. And this is mainly the only point where Europe may interfere. But I think the interesting question is: Why does Hungary need all those passages in the law that create this hubbub? Györky said that the left wing media is far too strong. I don’t believe this, it’s not true anymore, it maybe was eight, nine years ago. And censoring them in any way wouldn’t be a good solution anyways. On the other side of the spectrum, I am sure that kurucinfo and its likes could be stopped by other means. So why create such a law and at the same time appease everybody that nobody is intending to use the law in the worst possible way? Why not prevent this worst possible way from being possible in the first place? I guess I will have to ask Orbán about this, but I doubt I will get an answer.

    Sorry that I have to laugh about your mistake with Censorban, Mathew. But it reminds me of the Swedish television that had in subtitles “Ferenc Gyurcsányi, prime minister Hungary” some time this sommer during a football match. Not only has Orbán been prime minister since April, in between him and Gyurcsány there was even another one, Bajnai. So you’re in good company with using wrong names. 🙂

    Regarding the Benes decrees, they are not only a problem for Hungary but also for Germany, and once in a while discussions come up again and then fade away again. Just like with Hungary now, the council presidency might work as a catalysator for moving things in the focus. Who would have thought of this side effect of the ever changing presidency when they invented it!

  53. Dear Rigó Jancsi,

    I mostly agree with your remarks. But I still have my opinion of these reactions by far overstated the extent of the danger on Hungarian press freedom.

    So what is strange to me is less the Hungarian legislation, more the European outcry. The EU has not been always so sensitive on human rights and press freedom affaires.

  54. The EU has not been always so sensitive on human rights and press freedom affaires.

    But it should have been and should be, shouldn’t it? Now Hungary is in the unfortunate position to be the first in the cross fire. We just have to make sure that Berlusconi & Co. don’t get a different treatment anymore in the future.

    And in a way, Orbán has made sure that the media laws of other countries will have to be examined, too. He only wants to change passages that exist elsewhere, when those countries change them, too. Of course, if you take a passage here and there, you might create a completely different meaning in the end. But if there really will come up some problematic passages which you can find in the same context in other countries, then Orbán might be the happy winner, and in that case I have to admit rightly so. We will see.

  55. The EU is probably the greatest champion of human rights globally, so I don’t agree with the idea that it’s normally a ‘non-issue’. As stated before, Hungary got it in the neck on this one basically because it was a media law (thus more likely to get noticed) and because it has lousy timing. Crying ‘Not Fair’ doesn’t make the law any less objectionable (I readily concede that it’s not my call on whether its actually illegal, but others do).

    Pointing out that other countries are less than perfect may help Orban, at least domestically, but it probably will help promote media freedom and human rights across the EU. The winners of Orban’s tactics are thus conceivably all EU citizens … except corrupt politicians.

    I for one am REALLY looking forward to greater discussion and legal analyses across the EU of how the Italian media landscape meets EU law and OSCE standards! 😉

    So, Hungary, go for it – point out the double standards! (and fix the law). If I was the Hungarian Rep to the EU, I’d be drawing up lists, perusing Transparency International and other watchdogs, and asking pointed questions …

  56. Dear Rigó Jancsi,

    Yes, it should, no doubt. I even disagree with calling this position unfortunate, because Hungary can be the winner too. You were right with this.

    We have a PM (Orbán), who is considered the most talented Hungarian politician in the last 30 years. We have to have a good and strong diplomacy (errr, this is not our strength) and done.

    Dear Mathew,

    No-one cried “not fair”. Having read my comments, that must be clear for you that I’m not making excuses for the media act. I claim to handle this issue just like all the others: first investigate them and then judge them. And NOT on the contrary. E. g. in North Corea judgements come first and investigations after. Try to avoid acting like Kim Jong-il.

    Some people are calling democracy to account on the Hungarian media law, but they follow an undemocratic process. I’m confused.

    What I keep saying from the beginning of this discussion is that we’ve got to wait till the end of this process. Let’s not be too fast with drawing conclusions.

    As for the champion of human rights, well, the already mentioned Benes decrees, the Slovakian language act, the Hungarian police attack in october 2006, the Romanian protest against the autonomy of Székely Land… these are all issues that the EU can’t deal with… Unfortunately.

    Anyway, what you said about pointing out all the controvesial regulations in the EU27, you were right. Agreed.

  57. @David, a few clarifications &explanations:

    No-one cried “not fair”.

    If I am criticised for doing something, and in response I point at other people doing something as bad who are not being punished, I am crying “not fair”. Rightly! But it doesn’t change the fact that what I’m doing is wrong.

    first investigate them and then judge them

    This is the process we’ve seen. The OSCE did the first investigation and judgement (they are lawyers, you know), which was picked up by media, triggering further investigation. Including on this post.

    Some people are calling democracy to account on the Hungarian media law, but they follow an undemocratic process. I’m confused.

    Well let me explain. They are expressing an opinion. This is not the same as democracy, which is a way a society comes to a decision as a whole. But the freedom for individuals and groups to express their own, personal opinion is crucial to their society’s democracy.

    What I keep saying from the beginning of this discussion is that we’ve got to wait till the end of this process.

    We covered this in comment XV

    Also, once you hand a government this sort of power, it’s too late – it’ll be very difficult to get it back! What happens to your world if the opposition gets into power and keeps this power? Will you still defend it?

    We all agree that there are no EU eyes free from motes. A more structured approach to documenting them would definitely be a Good Thing.

  58. – OSCE did the first investigation and judgement

    As far as I know OSCE expressed its opinion and not its judgement. Opinions must be thought over, judgements must be executed.

    – They are expressing an opinion.

    Well, here’s my problem: you guys say you express your opinion, I say you guys state your opinion as fact.

    – Also, once you hand a government this sort of power, it’s too late.

    There were democratic elections, the result is democratic too. Don’t you think that Fidesz has a democratic authorization?

    – What happens to your world if the opposition gets into power and keeps this power? Will you still defend it?

    Be sure that I have defended them for several times in the past 8 years. But where were you when human rights were challenged (as detailed in LXI)?

  59. I feel you (or perhaps we) are quibbling over words now. ‘Judgement’ can mean many things in English. Sometimes it’s a legal judgement, and sometimes it’s a personal judgement, or an opinion.

    You raise an interesting question about democratic legitimacy. Of course the government has the legitimate right to change the law, and the constitution, with their majority.

    That doesn’t mean that when they change it, the resulting society is democratic. Hitler was elected democratically.

    Not that I’m in any way making a comparison! Just pointing out that democratic processes can lead to undemocratic outcomes. Which is a tough problem.

    International treaties, where states sign up to common standards on things like human rights and free speech, exist because they are part of the solution.

    Which is why the OSCE has a legitimate right to state an opinion – or make a reasoned legal judgement, if you prefer – that the Hungarian media law breaks the international obligations it signed up to when it joined the OSCE. Try as you might, you can’t deny that – it’s a fact.

    As for where were you when …?

    Fair point – but I’ve already answered it, more than once (just because laws are bad elsewhere…, etc.). In fact, much of my recent comments are restatements of arguments I’ve already made (e.g., OSCE’s legitimate right to judge/opine).

    Still, at least you come back, unlike @Györky for example, who didn’t have any answers to this and just slunk away.

    Nevertheless, we’re starting to repeat ourselves and quibble over semantics. All bad signs! ;-(

    Got anything new?

  60. I seems ot me that we’ve come to the end of this discussion. I’m no saying it was useless, after all (e.g. now I know that “judgement” in English has a much wider scale of meaning than in Hungarian).

    As for Mr Györky’s comment, let me be short with it. Hungarian right-side governments have always had a notoriously bad sense of diplomacy (with the western press). I think this is why mostly left-wing opinionmakers exercise an influence on the western public.

  61. Many thanks for all of your contributions to this post. I for one come away with a better idea of how polarised political discourse is in Hungary, but it goes well beyond that.

    Such a fractured landscape exists in many countries, and not just in Eastern Europe. If having a useful political debate is so difficult within many EU countries, I’m pondering the difficulties this implies for useful cross-EU discussions.

    An example: in many Western EU countries, being a “socialist” (which I’m not, btw) is considered totally normal, whereas in Hungary it seems to be one of the worst insults one can hurl. The differing cultural & historical backgrounds of many words in the political lexicon certainly add layers of difficulty to the Multilingualism Problem.

    Which is more or less that you are referring to, I imagine, when you write in “Federal Europe… or not really“:

    The European multiculturalism (that we are proud of) doesn’t only mean different types of buildings and food, but also means “mental divergences”.

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