Hungarian Constitutional Court repeals parts of Media Constitution and Media Law

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The Hungarian Constitutional Court passed its long-awaited decision on Monday, 19th December: it annulled an important part of the so-called Media Constitution and some sections of the Media Law. Two of the most problematic parts of the new media regulation were tackled: first, that the Media Constitution imposed vague content restrictions on printed and online written press. Second, that journalistic sources deserve protection only if they were used in the public interest, and that the causes for which they must be revealed for investigative authorities, are not listed. Further, the post of a Media-Commissioner who has the right to investage without any reason and report to the Authority, is unconstitutional.

However, it is too early to cheer. First, most changes take effect only from 1st of June, 2012.[1] Further, a real victory of press freedom would have been if the whole Media Constitution would have been found unconstitutional and annulled, or also the Media Law. This was rejected by the Court. Several other provisions were examined, and found constitutional: such the obligation to register, even for printed and online press, and the theoretical possibility of restricting the protection of journalistic sources (only more details were required). The powers of the Authority over printed and online press were left untouched as well. However, in absence of the content requirements, the latter is narrowed to registration and supervision of market dominance.

Only two days after this relatively joyful event, a new ground for mourning press freedom emerged. Klubradio, the only leftist oppositional radio left, has lost its frequency in a tender decision of the Media Council. The call for tender on the frequency that Klubradio used, invited radios which undertake to send music with no more than five minutes talk per hour – while Klubradio is primarily a talk-radio, and a very popular of its kind. It discussed political questions and public issues in most of its airtime, had a public service character, and was critical with the government.

The remaining news or talk radios represent the rightist political opinion and belong to rightist interest groups (Lánchíd, Info Rádió) or are part of the governmentally controlled state radio (Kossuth, Petőfi, Bartók). The decision is part of a strategic plan to gain full media-dominance by the governing Fidesz party and the companies financially adjacent to it. This strategy has achieved to effectively control all information that is imparted to the mass audiences, which means practically the control of the whole mainstream media.

The winner is a company that was founded in February this year, with a capital of one million Forints (appx. 3000 Euros) and no broadcasting experience. Its owners or CEO were not available for the press until now and the company was not found at its premises. Its CEO has been director to more than a dozen smaller companies, several of which were liquidated.

The call for tender set out several aspects of evaluation: among them the obligation to provide predominantly Hungarian music, primarily local news, and the price. The winner radio („Autoradio”) offered much higher fee than the other applicants (75 million vs. 55 million HUF), a sum which is held unrealistic by observers of the Hungarian radio market, where several music radios had to shut down recently, others request regular payment postponements from the Authority. (While, unrealistic business plan is a cause for exclusion from tender, according to § 59. (3)b) of the law.)

Klubradio received only one point less in the tender than the winner Autoradio (65 vs. 66 points). On Friday, the Media Council declared at its press conference that Klubradio must have submitted intentionally a „spectacularly” weak application. She added that the Council has been subjected to continuous domestic and international pressure and provocation to which it does not cede.

Public service Hungarian media published only a few paragraphs about the affair, citing the official statements of the Media Council. In the meantime, demonstrations took place on Thursday against the Council’s decision, and on Friday against fundamental laws of key importance that were passed that day and against the government’s policy in general (43 people were arrested). Since 9th of December (which means two weeks at the writing of this article), hunger strikers protest against falsification of news in front of the Hungarian (state) Television.


[1] The public interest condition on the protection of journalistic sources is an exception.

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