The Hungarian government, stung by virulent criticism of its new media legislation, appealed for calm, on 5 January, as it tried to prevent the row from derailing the start to its EU Presidency. On the same day that Budapest submitted a copy in English of the complex and lengthy legislative text to the European Commission, the country's Foreign Minister, Janos Martonyi, defended the controversial measures before the international media.

He dismissed much of the criticism as "simply factually mistaken," which had led to a self-generating process as allegations, once made, were repeated without any effort to check their original validity. He singled out the widely made assertion that the media could be fined if a report was judged by a newly formed panel to be unbalanced. Referring to Article 185(5) of the new law, he said: "If the information is unbalanced, this establishes that no fine can be imposed".

The minister, who was Hungary's first privatisation commissioner 20 years ago, insisted that the general principles of the law and safeguards set out in other pieces of legislation would prevent any abuse of the basic freedom of expression.

He appealed for an end to the "overheated debate" until the Commission, which raised concerns about the new measures shortly before Christmas, has given its judgement on the legislation. Asked whether that could lead to any amendments to the law, he replied: "A priori, I would refrain from anticipating anything".

The minister also dismissed as "nonsense" suggestions that foreign companies were being targeted by new taxation policies, although some have complained to the Commission that they consider...

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