Thursday, 20 January 2011

PM Viktor Orban wants to fight against free media in Hungary

Do you beat your wife, but argue that you are such a nice person outside your home that nobody should take you to task?

Which countries do most readily reject criticism of human rights violations as interference in their internal affairs?


Prime minister Viktor Orban presented the programme of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union at the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg. He was adamant about the illiberal media law:

Finally, Mr Orbán asked MEPs not to confuse the current EU Presidency with Hungary’s internal affairs, whatever their opinions may be. “I am ready to fight”, said the Hungarian prime minister, warning that if the distinction was not made, it would harm the whole of the EU, rather than just Hungary.

Orban's interpretation of ”respect and humility” was in marked contrast with the views of group leaders Martin Schulz (S&D), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA) regarding the fundamental value of freedom of information.

Some might see a message to the Hungarian EU Council presidency from the outgoing Belgian presidency, in the words of prime minister Yves Leterme a day earlier:

As much as about peace, the Union is about liberty, about democracy, about civil rights, about the rule of law, as well for our citizens as for our immigrants. We believe in the right of each person to human dignity, which means to the right to live on their feet and not on their knees, the right to think and speak and worship freely.

According to commissioner Neelie Kroes, the Commission is examining the implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) in Hungary (and other member states). In addition to these narrow legal grounds, president José Manuel Barroso called the freedom of the press a sacred principle, and he called for Orban to understand the political implications.

Andrew Willis on EUobserver noted that PM Orban was met by strong criticism from many members of the European Parliament:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with an unprecedentedly hostile welcome for an incoming EU presidency in the European Parliament on Wednesday (19 January), with MEPs venting strong criticism against Budapest's new media law.

However, PM Orban remained as pugnacious as ever.

Gulf Stream Blues noted Orban's combative mood as well as the timing of the new law:

The only explanations for the timing of this law are that Orban's administration is either extremely naïve or extremely belligerent. Neither bodes well for the potential of the Hungarian presidency to navigate the EU through the next six months of crisis.

Even if PM Orban is impervious to the founding values of the European Union and no EU institution seems to be prepared to enforce them as such, Hungary is party to the (European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including Article 10 on the Freedom of expression.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. On Verfassungsblog the lawyer, journalist and author Max Steinbeis combines his talents to explain the rulings of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court), in constant interplay with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Recommended reading.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn.