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Hungary vows swift reply to EU media law concerns

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(BUDAPEST) - Hungary promised Monday to issue a prompt response to the European Union's questions about its much-criticised media law, saying it was confident the legislation was in line with EU rules.

"Our experts are working on a response which is going to be sent (to Brussels) in a week's time," the Hungarian government's spokeswoman Anna Nagy told AFP.

Last week, senior EU commissioner Neelie Kroes sent a letter to deputy Hungarian prime minister Tibor Navracsics expressing "serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law."

The legislation -- which came into effect at the beginning of the year and has been widely criticised both inside and outside Hungary as impinging on media freedom -- may have breached the EU's new fundamental rights charter and could face legal action, according to the EU letter seen by AFP.

Kroes gave Hungary, which holds the current EU chairmanship, two weeks to respond, as of January 21.

Reacting to calls from Hungary's Socialist opposition to make the contents of Brussels' letter public, spokeswoman Nagy said the government would do so "within a few days".

But she insisted that many of the issues "that have come in for such wide criticism in recent weeks -- issues such as freedom of speech and of expression -- were not questioned by the letter."

Under the legislation, a new media authority, or Media Council, has the right to regulate media content and impose fines when rules are not respected.

The Council, to be headed by members from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, will prescribe restrictions on media content and impose fines not only for content considered offensive, but also for material that "is not politically balanced".

It will also have the right to inspect media equipment and documents and to force journalists to reveal sources in issues related to national security.

Nagy said the EU was primarily seeking clarification in a number of "technical areas."

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