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GLOBAL JOURNALIST: Hungary faces free-press criticism

Friday, February 11, 2011 | 12:57 p.m. CST; updated 2:30 p.m. CST, Friday, February 11, 2011

As the European Union shifted its focus toward Hungary in early January, so did journalists and free-press advocates. In the most recent installment of the EU's six-month rotating presidency that began Jan. 1, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban received heavy criticism as he took command as president of the EU Council.

Hungary's law, which may soon be revised, requires the media to meet vague standards of "balance," "human dignity" and "morality." A media authority composed of members of the ruling Fidesz party can force journalists to disclose their sources.  

Since the law's inception in mid-December, fear that the standard could spread to other European nations has been a growing concern, and dissenters have adamantly demanded its repeal. In fact, members of the European Parliament taped their mouths to protest the law as Orban delivered his first address as EU president. Although Orban insists that the law is congruous with the EU's standards, EU officials don’t buy it.

The Hungarian government and the European Commission will hold talks in Brussels on Monday about the law, and Orban said he’s ready to change the legislation based on the EU’s legal review. 

This week, we explore these issues and more on Global Journalist.

Listen to this week's show.

Highlights from this week's guests:

Vienna, Austria: Steven M. Ellis, International Press Institute'spress freedom adviser for Europe and the Americas

"When countries seek to join the EU, they have to meet certain benchmarks and meet certain standards before they are allowed in. One of those standards is freedom of the press. It sets a very dangerous precedent when countries join the EU and takes steps to interfere with the freedom of the press. When you sign up for the EU, you sign up for EU values. There are serious questions about whether this law is in accordance with those values. It just goes to show that even in the heart of Europe, we still have to be vigilant about freedom of the press."

Brussels, Belgium: Valentina Pop, reporter, EUobserver

"In the European Parliament, the reaction was fierce. When Mr. Orban presented his presidency program in the parliament, he got into a very fiery debate with the parliamentarians who were all criticizing him for this law. He felt the need to defend the honor of Hungarian people because of what he thought was a criticism against the democracy and the foundations in Hungary."

Budapest, Hungary: Attila Mong, host of Hungarian Public Radio's 180 Minutes

"I work for the Hungarian radio, but I am suspended. Dec. 21, just after the media legislation was approved, we kept one minute of silence as a kind of protest against the media law in my morning show. I really know what the feedback from a lot of people is because a lot of people write me on my Facebook page and I have a lot of Twitter messages. So I know that a lot of people in Hungary do not agree with this media law and would like to influence the government and the political elite to change this law."

Vienna, Austria: Gerfried Sperl, former editor-in-chief and columnist for the Der Standard

"We have to look very closely at those developments because if you are a pessimist you could pretend that there should possibly be a line of authoritarian government practice, which could be developed concerning this new constitution within the philosophy of the media law. We should be not only watchdogs, but we should look very closely and observe the development of democracy in Hungary because this is not only a Hungarian situation and a Hungarian example, but a European example."

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