Hungary’s two-week-old EU presidency has been characterised by a furor over a new media law that has been claimed to herald “the end of a free media” in the country. More than 1,000 civil society groups disagree.
The Civil Co-Operation Forum (Civil Összefogás Fórum, CÖF) is made up of more than 1,000 civil society organisations representing “many tens of thousands” of Hungarians. I interviewed Ágoston Schulek, a spokesman for the CÖF, which organised a media conference on Wednesday. The conference was widely covered in the Hungarian media, but I found nothing on it in English. The CÖF argues that the attacks on the government of Prime Minister Orbán, especially about a new media law, are unfounded. Schulek said in an e-mail:
”The trouble is not that they are attacking the government or its measures, but that they on occasion do it in an underhanded way…look at the media law, which they began to scandalise when they had not even read it, after all, there was not even an English translation yet!”
The international media has compared Viktor Orbán to Vladimir Putin. What do you say?“Viktor Orbán has “survived” the left-liberal crossfire that has come down on him for 13 years. He’s been a Jew, a Gypsy; woman-beater; a nervous wreck etc. and they still couldn’t destroy him. I am convinced he is a charismatic, mission-minded, nation-loving democratic leader. If there were more like him here and in Europe, we wouldn’t be where we are!"You mentioned that the previous Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, admitted to lying to the Hungarian people in 2006 and that there was not much reaction to this in the western world. Compared to the now, what reaction did you observe?”Gyurcsány, although in a closed circle, but admitted that they (Hungarian Socialist Party) won the (national) elections with many hundreds of cases of cheating,lies. He called our country a whore!”
(The speech was later leaked.)
The CÖF has been quite angry in commenting that during the Socialist’s government, many violations of human rights took place, which included the arrests of journalists as well, and the western media kept quiet about it, . During the 50 Years’ anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, CÖF says the ex-Communist Hungarian Socialist Party government committed serious violations. Schulek said:
”On October 23, they chased the radicals into the peaceful, unsuspecting crowd of FIDESZ supporters and afterwards beat, shot everyone who moved. They charged into peacefully walking people, they pulled the people out of restaurants without choosing they hit them, beat them. They knelt for ours at the gardens of the Radio and kicked the people.”
Youtube Screen Capture/szmarko
Bystander after police beating, 2006.
Meanwhile, the media law, which places broadcast and print media, as well as such matters as TV and radio contect, prevention of hate speech, anti-Semitism and similar legislation under one authority, the National Media and Infocumunications Authority,(NMIA) the Board of which is made up of pro-government members, has come under massive attack by left-wing Hungarian and both conservative and liberal media in the west, in newspapers, on the airwaves and online. (The text of the law can be downloaded here.) Hungary’s conservative media defended the law, as did the American Hungarian Federation (AHF), which deplored what it called ”A Rush to judgement.” The CÖF spokesman said:
”Press freedom is not in danger, and what is more, there is too much licenciousness, they can drag anyone through the mud, they can destroy anyone they want! Observe the newspapers, the Internet, listen to the TV, radio broadcasts! The predominance of the Left-Wing in the media is enormous! ”
"The Media Law is Euroconform. I know, that stated like this, it’s not much (to say), but those who put it together used only existing European examples to write it. (When they asked an English journalist, whether this is the case, his answer was, that it isn’t good there, either. So then, why doesn’t he criticise the BBC?"
Considering all these issues, I asked whether the media war over the media law did not reflect the political situation in Hungary itself? The country suffers from the fact that it never had a ”lustration” process, like many other ex-Communist nations, and therefore in Hungary the former torturers, murderers and those who committed lesser crimes, like informing on their fellows, all walk free, which causes great bitterness among their former victims.
”The relationship between the Left and the Right wing is exactly reflected in the current media-heckling campaign, because it also shows just how much larger the voice of the liberal (left) wing is.”
The Central European Digest contrasts two further views on the issue in this article (click for the other view.)