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Hungary says could amend media law at EU demand

07 January 2011, 16:50 CET
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(BUDAPEST) - Hungary will amend its controversial media law if the EU demands it, Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed Friday, attempting to smooth things over after an inauspicious start to Budapest's EU presidency.

"If it demands changes, we will change (the text)," Orban told a joint press conference with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to kick off Hungary's six months at the helm of the 27-nation European Union.

"But no pressure, no campaigns," he begged, on the sidelines of talks between his government and the entire commission.

"If concerns turn out to be legitimate," after the commission has examined the disputed text, "we will be prepared to find a solution," Orban said.

"We are prepared to do what's necessary so that the media law does not weigh on the Hungarian presidency."

Hungary has come under fire for a new media law, which critics say restrict press freedoms.

The resulting debate has already overshadowed the start of the country's EU presidency.

But Orban insisted Budapest was not looking for confrontation.

"It's not a tug of war for us, not a prestige issue."

He also highlighted a particular concern of the commission, which was that two newly created media authorities would not have enough political independence.

The regulatory authority, the NMHH, is headed by a close ally of Orban, while the Media Council (MT), which oversees the application of the media law, is made up of five members of Orban's ruling Fidesz party.

"If the EU legal judgment finds that there is too much concentration we will deliberate and change that," the prime minister said.

"But I am assured that this will not be the case."

Any assessment of the law would find it "not discriminatory," he added confidently.

While Barroso also adopted a conciliatory tone Friday, he warned that Hungary's presidency could be permanently damaged if the media debate carried on much longer.

"I have received assurances from the prime minister that the law will be implemented in full respect of EU values, media freedom and relevant EU legislations," Barroso told journalists.

"But apart from the legal aspect there is also a political part here," he noted.

"There is also the need for Hungary to have the full backing of (EU) member states and EU institutions to make of this presidency a success."

Budapest has faced severe criticism from Germany and France, among others, for its new media law, which came into force on January 1.

Under the law, the NMHH will have the right to impose major fines on media outlets and force journalists to reveal sources on issues related to national security.

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