Thursday, January 26, 2012

Orban's war against the free press under fire

Head of EU advisory group slams concentration of media power in Hungary

By Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The head of a European Union advisory panel on Wednesday denounced the “extraordinary concentration” of power in the press under the leadership of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, saying it has undermined his nation’s media freedom.
The official, former Latvia Prime Minister Vaire Vike Freiberga, said Wednesday that she believes “Hungary and its leaders would be wise to reconsider the laws and regulations that they have passed so as not to stand in contravention of various fundamental principles.”
The criticism on media freedoms adds to the standoff between the EU and Hungary. The bloc already has launched legal proceedings against Hungary over the independence of the judiciary and the central bank.
Orban swept into power in 2010 and has used a two-thirds majority in parliament to change the political landscape to his liking and in a way that that raised sharp criticism from the EU and the United States.
A key step in the centralization of power was a media law that allows the party to influence reports in the state media. Critical journalists have been fired and the threat of massive fines has pushed others into self-censorship. A private radio station, Klubradio, which was critical of the government, has been stripped of its frequency — and is set to go off the air shortly.
The Independent High-level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, which advises the EU, also is looking at other nations, but Freiberga said Hungary stands out with its “extraordinary concentration” of responsibilities. She said that if prohibitive fines can be imposed “there is no court recourse as there is in other countries.”
“These are potential sources of pressure on the media and any source of pressure is a potential danger for narrowing the range of their freedom of expression,” she said.
On Tuesday, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes met with the head of Klubradio and complained it already lost 8 local frequencies last year, further threatening media freedom.

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