After an initial silence, the European Commission ended up confirming its "doubts," on 3 January, about the highly controversial new Hungarian media law, just as Budapest takes up the reins of the EU for six months. The EU executive is particularly concerned about the independence of the media authority created by Hungary, but at this stage is not considering action for infringement of EU law.
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes was the first to react. In a letter sent to Budapest shortly before Christmas, she voiced "doubts about the capacity of the new media authority to act independently, particularly given its composition". The law, denounced in Hungary and worldwide, creates a media authority of five members, all from Fidesz, the party of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the charismatic leader of the Conservative right.
The authority is entitled to impose fines of up to 730,000 for material - published in any media - that is "not politically balanced" or that "is offensive to human dignity". These concepts are not clearly defined, however. Journalists would also be obliged to reveal their sources on issues related to "protection of law and order".
The Commission has already received responses from Budapest to the effect that the law, adopted on 20 December by Hungary's parliament, complies fully with EU legislation. It is still waiting for a more detailed response and "formal notification of the law" (translated into English) and of its provisions transposing a 2007 directive. The law in fact constitutes national transposition of the latest version of the 1989 Television Without Frontiers Directive, revised by the EU in May 2007. Renamed Audiovisual Media Services Without Frontiers Directive, this text adapts EU legislation to new services, such as video-on-demand and new forms of advertising. Kroes is concerned about "incomplete or erroneous transposition" in Hungary, explained a spokesman. The 2007 directive stresses the "independence" of national audiovisual authorities (see box).
Once the law has been notified, the Commission will take "as long as necessary" to analyse it. The matter will be on the agenda of a meeting between the Hungarian government and the Commission, on 7 January in Budapest.
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