EU experts rebuke Hungary, France, Italy over media rules
(BRUSSELS) - A high-level panel of experts reviewing the state of press freedom in Europe voiced concerns Wednesday over Hungary's controversial media laws, but also took Italy and France to task.
Latvia's ex-president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who chairs the Media Freedom and Pluralism group sponsored by the European Commission, criticised the powers in the hands of Hungary's national media authority.
"One concern that seemed to stand out in the case of Hungary was the extraordinary concentration of competences and responsibilities in the media council," she told a news conference.
The media body was created as part of the government's media reforms last year, in changes that have drawn sharp international condemnation. It is staffed exclusively with allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party.
"The concern is that if the same body appoints heads of channels, decides on eventual fines, (and) there is no court recourse as in other countries, these are potential sources of pressure on the media," Vike-Freiberga said.
She said Budapest "would be wise" to reconsider its laws "so as not to stand in contravention" of various fundamental rights.
France and Italy also came in for criticism.
The power of the French president to name the head of national television "is not a good example for Europe," Vike-Freiberga said. "Hopefully we would not see that in any country in Europe," she added.
"That too is most definitely a concentration of powers in one single hand, but in France there are other mechanisms that serve to mitigate the concentration of powers in one single hand," she said.
In Italy, there is "an extreme concentration of private channels of television and radio in one hand," she said, in a veiled reference to media baron Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister.
"The constitutional court of Italy had ruled this as an undesirable situation but politically it has been ignored," Vike-Freiberga added.
The panel will present its final findings to the European Union's media commissioner, Neelie Kroes, by the end of the year.
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