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“More than half of people in four former communist central European counties fear media freedom is in danger, with significant majorities wanting government or EU measures to protect it,” The Guardian reports regarding the results of a poll. Hungary had the highest proportion of respondents who said that media in the country should not be considered free, the British newspaper reports, citing an international survey.

This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.

A survey on press freedom in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia found that more than half of respondents are concerned about the state of press freedom, with Hungary having the highest percentage of respondents saying that the media in their country is not free, The Guardian reports.

Fifty-two percent expressed concern about media freedom, with the highest figure (63%) recorded in Poland, whose right-wing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party is accused of pursuing independent media with expensive lawsuits and interfering in public broadcasting.

The study, which involved 4,069 people, was conducted over a 16-day period in February, prior to the Russian invasion.

The responses were also analyzed by party preference, with interesting results. More than half of Fidesz voters are not at all concerned about the situation of the Hungarian press, while the overwhelming majority of opposition party voters are. This is not a Hungarian peculiarity; the other V4 countries show a similar trend: voters of the governing parties are the least concerned, while voters of the opposition are the most concerned.

International Press Institute Condemns Orbán Gov’t for Continuing to Bar Journalists from Reporting on the Pandemic
International Press Institute Condemns Orbán Gov’t for Continuing to Bar Journalists from Reporting on the Pandemic

"There is no other country in the EU which has such restrictive hospital reporting policies in place as Hungary," IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said.Continue reading

The survey also determined how important independent media is to people in their country, media that cannot be influenced or censored by the government. Although 72% of Hungarians believe that such media is necessary, this percentage is still lower than in the other three countries, where it is over 80%. Interestingly, however, 7% of Hungarians believe that there is no need for an independent press.

In Hungary, fewer people (55%) support the idea that editorial teams should have full autonomy over what they write about in the newspaper. In the other countries, the figure is a good 70 percent or more.

We are also behind on the question of how we assess the relationship between the government and the public media.

Although 53 percent of Hungarians believe that the government should have no influence on how the state media operates and what they broadcast. This percentage is far below that of countries in the region: in the Czech Republic, for example, the figure is 80 percent.

The study also found that 46 percent of Hungarians believe that the public media does not represent or show their political views, while only 25 percent believe that they do. This is not unique to Hungary either, as it is the same in Slovakia and Poland.

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MTVA: OSCE 'Trying to Drag Hungarian Public Media into Politics' with 'Pre-Judged' Report

No one is allowed to put political pressure on editorial freedom or independence, "be it physical violence or the publication of politically motivated opinions hiding behind the names of international organizations," the state media said.Continue reading

Interestingly, the older one is, the more critical of press freedom in the region: 39% of those over 65 say the press is not free, while only 23% of 18- to 24-year-olds agree.

All four countries believe that the issue of press freedom has deteriorated over the past five years, with Poland (55%) and Hungary (40%) even believing that their situation is worse than that of the other Central and Eastern European countries.

What does the V4 believe can be done to protect press freedom and support independent journalism?

In all four countries, support is similarly strong for the state to tighten laws to ensure press freedom and independence. However, they are less in favor of the government supporting the media financially, for example through tax breaks.

Hungary, on the other hand, is the country least in favor (52%) of the European Union imposing fines or sanctions on countries whose governments obstruct press freedom. In the other three countries, this percentage is between 58 and 63 percent.

EU law on media freedom?

The survey is to be part of the consultation process on the European Commission’s draft law on media freedom.

The bill, led by Commission for Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová, aims to protect media pluralism and independence in the face of growing concerns about ownership and possible government interference.

The organizers hope this will be a spur to action.

Media Authority: EU Media Freedom Law's Detailed Rules Should Be National Competency
Media Authority: EU Media Freedom Law's Detailed Rules Should Be National Competency

"EU jurisdiction in media regulation cannot be expanded limitlessly without harming national competencies," which could lead to the regulation infringing on the nation's sovereignty and right to national legislation, the authority said.Continue reading

In its 2021 annual report on the state of media freedom, the non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders portrayed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a major threat to press freedom. To demonstrate the existence of press freedom in Hungary in contrast to this accusation, Viktor Orbán posted a short video on his Facebook page. In the clip, the Prime Minister can be seen going to a small kiosk and buying a handful of left-liberal newspapers and magazines that harshly criticized him on their front pages.

Sources: The Guardian, Mandiner, Telex

Featured image: illustration via Pixabay

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