Sunday, 9 January 2011

Hungary: Is free speech a socialist issue?

Freedom of opinion is an ideal too important to be swept under the rug by vague promises by high officials, or limited to purely legal scrutiny of a patchwork of minimum standards, so we continue to look at the Euroblog discussion, as in: Hungarian media law and EU Council presidency: Evolving European opinion (8 January 2011).


Mathew Lowry

One of the earlier blog posts against the authoritarian media law in Hungary was Mathew Lowry: Censoring Hungarian Blogs during the Hungarian EU Presidency (originally 22 December 2010, but now updated four times).

Among the updates is a link to the text of Act CLXXXV of 2010 on media services and mass media in English on Politics.hu as well as a lot of comments discussing the law (48 by now).

Some among the 51 comments to Lowry's blog post are chilling reading for anyone who, like Gandhi, thinks that Western civilisation would be a good idea. Imposing legal sanctions on other than impartial reporting, as defined by a politically nominated authority of party hacks, is a far cry from freedom of speech, even if restricted to important events. There seems to be little protection against arbitrariness.

If commitments to democracy, freedom of speech and rule of law are luxuries of wealthy western states Hungarians (and other Central Europeans) can ill afford, their country should not have joined the Council of Europe or the European Union, which embody the continuing quest for higher standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

If official Hungary is opposed to improving fundamental rights of EU citizens, including free speech, the government should not have assumed the responsibility to represent the EU to its 501 million citizens or to champion human rights in the wider world.

As Mathew said, media freedom is not a left/right issue, it is a democracy/authoritarianism issue.

Mathew punctured the allegations that criticism of the media law came from socialists only or mainly, by mentioning in addition to The Economist known for its free market views:

- the French Govt (quite right wing, many would say)
- the German Govt (centre right)
- the UK Gov’t (a centre right coalition led by the UK’s Conservative Party)
- the Luxembourg Govt (centre-right)

The ones who proclaim that free speech is a socialist issue are offering socialist Europarties undeserved kudos. Free media becomes a socialist issue only if others betray our trust. Since appearances matter as well as substance, this puts the other political parties at European level under pressure to come out resoundingly in favour of improving media freedom, in Hungary, in Europe and universally.

A return to darker times is not an option EU citizens should have to contemplate.



Ralf Grahn



P.S. Does ”Onward and upward in 2011” mean Talking about the EU on the blog, on the official website of the European Commission in the United Kingdom, on Facebook or on Twitter? Antonia is not the only (social) media user and producer to wonder.