Key Developments

  • Withstanding EU pressure, government moves ahead with restrictive media law.

  • Regulators try to pull the FM frequency of a critical radio station.

Despite pressure from the European Commission, the Hungarian government implemented a media law that requires "balanced reporting" and imposes fines for transgressions. The government adopted only minor amendments in response to demands from the commission. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing party, Fidesz, was able to withstand the pressure thanks to the support of the European People's Party and the underlying fears of EU member states about conceding sovereignty to Brussels. The restrictive media law was a barometer of a wider pattern of deteriorating press freedom. Opposition media faced financial pressure as most public and private advertising went to pro-government outlets. The government-controlled Media Council sought to award the FM frequency of Klubrádió, a leading opposition station, to a rival broadcaster in a long-running battle that was pending in late year. While segments of private media remain critical, public broadcasting was under tight government control.

[Refworld note: The sections that follow represent a best effort to transcribe onto a single page information that appears in tabs on the CPJ's own pages, which also include a number of dynamically-generated graphics not readily reproducible here. Refworld researchers are therefore strongly recommended to check against the original report: Attacks on the Press in 2012.]

Against media law: 315

In a 315-263 vote in February, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for freedom and pluralism to be guaranteed in Hungary's media law, which is seen as highly restrictive.

Timeline of the European Union's efforts:

February 9, 2012: Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission in charge of the digital agenda, threatens to refer Hungary to the Council of the European Union under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which may strip a member of its voting rights.

March 21: The Council of Europe expert committee, the Venice Commission, releases a preliminary report on Hungary's media law underlining three major areas of concern: lack of independence among media regulators, vague definitions for content regulation, and erosion of protection of journalists' sources.

May 16: The European Union and the Council of Europe release a joint expert opinion on the media law and recommend numerous changes. Hungary disregards the most substantive ones.

June 7: Kroes says the modest amendments Hungary has adopted "fail to address the concerns" of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

Contested frequency: 95.3

Klubrádió, an opposition talk station based in Budapest, fought in the courts to retain its frequency. The Media Council awarded 95.3 FM to another broadcaster in a decision seen as politically motivated. Klubrádió continued to broadcast on the frequency in late year as the case remained pending.

Timeline of a frequency fight:

December 2011: Autoradio Broadcasting is awarded the frequency. Klubrádió appeals the decision, saying its bid was rejected for political reasons.

March 2012: A Budapest court rules that the Media Council had wrongly awarded the frequency to Autoradio.

August 2012: The Media Council adopts a decree judging Klubrádió's bid invalid. Klubrádió appeals again.

September 27-29: A Budapest appellate court finds in favor of Klubrádió and overturns the decree. By year's end, the Media Council has ignored a total of six court decisions that confirmed Klubrádió had the right to a permanent frequency.

Internet penetration: 59%

Hungary's Internet penetration is just below average in Europe, according to the International Telecommunication Union. But data from the U.S. State Department show a large gap between the user rates in Budapest and the rest of the country.

An urban-rural divide:

70%: Budapest population accessing the Internet daily.

49%: Population in other cities accessing the Internet daily.

41%: Population in rural areas accessing the Internet daily.

Blogs: 256,600

Intense political discussions and strong right/left divides are defining features of online activity in Hungary. U.S. government data show hundreds of thousands of blogs.

Most popular forums:

Barátok Közt
Nézhetetlen a Napkelte
Politika Light
Csapos Ogre Fogadója

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