EU questions Hungary's media laws

Jan. 26, 2011 at 8:27 AM

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The European Union commissioner handling media issues said he has "serious doubts" about Hungary's new media law, saying Budapest has two weeks to explain.

If the country fails to satisfy the request for an explanation of the law Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said was meant to combat racism, then legal action may be necessary, the EUobserver reported Wednesday.

"The commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of Hungarian legislation with Union law," Neelie Kroes said in a letter to Hungarian leaders last week. "Considering the urgency of this case ... I invite the Hungarian government to submit within two weeks observations on how these serious doubts may be addressed."

The commission said it found three provisions in the media law worrisome.

The commission said one requirement -- an "obligation to provide balanced coverage" by all audiovisual media -- appears inconsistent to freedom of expression and information as protected in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights that Hungary signed.

The Hungarian law also seems to broaden the imposition of fines and restriction of content from other EU members, which under EU law can only be done in certain instances, the commission said.

Finally, Kroes said the requirement of registering all media is a "disproportionate restriction to the freedom of establishment and the free provision of services," and infringes on the right of freedom of expression and information, the EUobserver reported.

Zoltan Kovacs, Hungary's secretary for government communications, told Hungarian media Tuesday the letter "contains questions of a technical nature rather than ones relating to freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

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