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EU voices 'doubts' over Hungary media law

03 January 2011, 20:03 CET
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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union on Monday said it has "doubts" on whether Hungary's controversial new press law complies with EU rules on media freedom and has asked Budapest for further explanation.

Days before Hungary took over the rotating EU presidency on January 1, a European Commission vice-president, Neelie Kroes, sent a letter to Budapest voicing "concerns" and asking for "clarification" on the text, a Commission spokesman said.

Kroes expressed particular concern about the independence of the powerful new media regulator set up by centre-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said spokesman Olivier Bailly.

Her Christmas Eve letter voiced "doubts on the proper interpretation of all the aspects of a (European telecommunications) directive" from 2007 once it was transcribed into Hungarian law, he said.

Kroes also had "doubts on the new media authority's capacity to act with independence, notably given its composition", he added.

The new watchdog, known as the NMHH and set up to regulate media content and impose fines when rules are not respected, is headed by members of Orban's Fidesz party.

The spokesman said Kroes had not threatened action against Hungary and had not set a deadline to respond. But he quoted Kroes' letter as stating: "I look forward to receiving your notification in the coming days."

In a first response, the Hungarian authorities said the new legislation "in their eyes did not violate EU laws and that a more detailed response would be forthcoming as soon as possible", the spokesman added.

The matter might be broached Friday in Budapest when the entire European Commission travels there to meet the Hungarian government, Bailly added.

NMHH fines for content considered offensive, and material that "is not politically balanced", can fetch up to 200 million forint (720,000 euros, 950,000 dollars) for radio and television.

The NMHH also has the right to inspect media equipment and documents and to force journalists to reveal sources on issues related to national security.

There has been fierce criticism at home and abroad over the new legislation, which came into force on January 1 just as Hungary took over the six-month EU presidency.

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