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Venice Commission: Hungary’s Media Regulations Improving But Concerns Still Remain

Tamás Székely 2015.06.22.

Though Hungary has improved its media regulations in recent years, increasing the freedom of the media in the country requires further measures, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission said in an opinion. The Venice Commission evaluated Hungary’s media laws adopted in 2010, and the law on last year’s advertisement tax. Concerning the latter, the document said that Hungary’s reducing the tax in May resolves a number of the issues, and welcomed the Hungarian government’s openness to change the contested legislation. It added, however, that the tax should be distributed evenly and without any discrimination, and said that the ailing media sector should not be overburdened.

Concerning Hungary’s stipulations on media content restrictions, the Commission said those passages were not sufficiently clear and that they should apply the principle of proportionality. The Venice Commission also voiced disagreement with a ban on criticising religious or political views, as well as with stipulations that media content cannot violate privacy rights, cases of which should be discussed by courts. Authors of the document agreed that the state should fight slander, obscenity or hate speech, but said that the Hungarian legislation’s such concepts as ethics or constitutional order were too vague and allowed a too broad interpretation by courts.

According to the document, the composition of Hungary’s Media Council should also be changed so as to ensure representation of significant political and other groups, as well as that of the media. The authority and selection of the head of the Council, who also heads the media authority, should also be changed to ease a concentration of authority and ensure political neutrality. The document noted that changes made to those rules in 2013 were positive, but not sufficient to guarantee the actual independence of the Council. Hungary needs to find a way to make the Media Council a politically neutral body, it said, suggesting that the body’s members were selected based on political considerations. The public media needs to be decentralised, and the national news agency (MTI) should not be its exclusive supplier of news, it insisted.

Hungary’s justice ministry said on Saturday that the commission has recognised progress in Hungary’s media regulations. Justice Minister László Trócsányi said at the Commission’s plenary session that both he and the Hungarian government were prepared for a dialogue with the opposition. He welcomed that the Commission had approved a majority of the government’s proposed amendments to the draft report and acknowledged that the principle of proportionality had been enshrined in the Hungarian constitution. Under Hungary’s proposal, a statement inserted in the document establishes that the European Court of Human Rights has never examined the laws on press freedom, the fundamental rules of media content, media services and mass communication, the ministry said.

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