“”Reporting on crime that “doesn’t serve the interest of the democratic public” must be restricted to 20% of the time devoted to news.””
That would be nice wouldn’t it, simply removing the inconvenient news by not reporting it. Believe it or not, that is one of the planks of an authoritarian new media law recently introduced by a European Union country, a country that takes up the EU’s Presidency as of today.
And it gets worse.
A “media council has been created, with its chairperson being appointed for a nine-year term by the Prime-Minister, currently Fidesz (a conservative-nationalist party) leader Viktor Orban. The council consists solely of members belonging to or favourable to that ruling party and will have the power to fine television and radio stations as much as 200 million forints (about 700,000 euros) for coverage deemed in their opinion as “politically” “out of balance”. Maximum fines for national newspapers and websites were set at 25 million forints and for weeklies at 10 million.
The media council also has the right to access documents before publication. Journalists will have to disclose their sources on matters of “national security”, that is “national security” as defined by the party apparatchiks on the media council.
Another paragraph of the law reads: “any statement in the media which is qualified as an overt or covert insult of persons, nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities or any majority, in addition to any church or religious groups is punishable.”
The definition of “overt” or “covert” and “insult” again being “qualified” by the National Media Council, obviously. Theoretically then if you criticize the government, it will be easy in the future to “qualify” this criticism as an “incitement against the majority”. All depending, once again, on that National Media Council, a National Media comprised, remember, completely of the governing party’s functionaries.
There have been various protests within Hungary itself; newspapers and magazines have run blank covers, several radio presenters and commentators have already been removed from their previous positions; even the rapper Ice T has been metaphorically banished for singing (in a foreign language!) “obscenities harmful to youthful morals”
So what’s the relevance to readers of Slugger O’Toole?
Firstly, the dangerous precedent it sets. Both the UK and the Republic have fairly robust and independent media but we are kidding ourselves that this is a state of affairs welcomed by our respective political elites.
Imagine a BBC having to report to and justify itself to a Media Council composed entirely of Cameronian Placemen; the Guardian having to balance each liberal piece in Comment is Free with a mirror-imaged conservative article; every criticism of the “Brits” online (yep, online “newpapers”, i.e. sites with more than 2 contributors, just like Slugger, are also covered by this law) being met with a hefty fine.
And tell me that there aren’t those of an authoritarian bent within all the political parties here who wouldn’t welcome the kind of political control that their counterparts in Hungary now wield. And if such power is now apparently acceptable in one EU country, then why shouldn’t it be acceptable elsewhere?
Secondly, as I mentioned at the start, 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.
In other words, what’s the point of us preaching the worth of our democratic values when we don’t practise them ourselves?
Thirdly and more abstractly, especially in the modern age, the concept of free press doesn’t begin and end at a nation’s border; an attack on the right to freely give and receive opinion anywhere in the world is an attack on our very own personal right to freely give and receive opinion.
If you’re interested in the democratic fightback which is taking place in Hungary and further afield in the EU, then these links may be of interest:
Facebook page “Million for Hungarian Media Freedom” (scroll down for the English translation and links to press articles:
World Association of Newspapers statement:
And finally, “European blog action against censorship in Hungary”.