By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– The founder of Central and Eastern Europe’s first online Christian news agency has welcomed the Hungarian government’s pledge to ammend a controversial media law that critics saw as a threat to press freedom, but he cautioned it was to early to celebrate.
“Ironically, the decision was announced a week after we received an order to register ourselves with the newly established media authory which is staffed with government appointees,” said Stefan J. Bos, who founded BosNewsLife News Agency with his wife, Agnes R. Bos, on the day Hungary joined the European Union in 2004.
The story was picked up by news papers in Hungary, Poland and other websites as it showed that foreign media could also be targetted under the law, he explained. “Our case underscored the concerns expressed by the European Union’s executive, the European Commission.”
After an investigation, the European Commission concluded that the legislation, which came into force January 1, violates European rules.
Under the law, media had to register with the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) and its Media Council could impose fines of over 100,000 dollars for newspapers and websites and nearly one million dollars for broadcasters if their news coverage was deemed unbalanced or immoral.
But in a u-turn Wednesday, Commission Spokesman Jonathan Todd said Hungary had now agreed to end the idea of pre-registering media and to limit the ‘balanced coverage’ requirement to broadcasters, after European pressure. Authorities also promised to scrap the threat of fines to foreign media operators and limit the ‘offence’ clause “to incitement to hatred or discrimination,” Todd added.
The Commission had expressed concerns about these meassures, saying they appeared to break freedom-of-speech rules, while the law also seemed to violate the principle that each EU company is covered by its home country’s laws.
“We welcome the government’s pledge to change the law but we are not yet celebrating. BosNewsLife remains concerned, for instance, about the requirements for broadcasters to provide balanced coverage,” Bos said.
“We also regret that the Commission has no authority to rule on the make up of a new Media Council. They are government appointed officials with a whopping nine-year tenure and solely responsible for interpreting the new media regulations. That means, they still could impose ruinous fines,” he added.
Commission spokesman Todd tried to playdown these concerns. He said that following the Hungarian government’s proposed amendments, “We will now monitor closely their implementation in practice.”
Hungarian State Secretary Zoltan Kovacs has said in a statement that the relevant amendments will go before Hungary’s parliament “within two weeks”. The ruling center right Fidesz party has a two-third majority in parliament.
Bos said he hopes legistators “will not change” their mind. “We have publicly pledged not to register with the NMHH because we don’t accept government control.”
BosNewsLife earlier published: