A Hungarian WATCH Exclusive: a first-hand account and superb analysis of the Media Protest in Hungary on January 14th, 2011 – attended by approximately 10,000 protesters. We are protecting the identity of the author as a precaution against punishment under the new media law.
On January 14th a protest with roughly ten thousand people gathered in front of the Parliament in Budapest, Hungary – objecting against the newly established Media Law that was enacted on on January 1st, 2011, subordinating all TV- and radio channels, press and internet portals to a Media Authority (NMHH) controlled by the right wing, conservative ruling party, Fidesz; the newly formed authority may impose a fine up to 730 euros on any medium – based on certain regulations, sections of which are claimed to be ambiguous by many.
As a declaration of solidarity, at the same time, another protest was also held in Vienna (Austria), in front of the Hungarian embassy, organized by students, Amnesty International and by Reporters Without Borders. These organizations find the new law to be violating certain principles of the United Nations and the European Union.
The demonstration was launched by civil organizers; politicians of any sides have been asked to stay away. The protesters articulated certain demands in a proclamation addressing the Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the government. The points of the proclamation include a request for an amendment and the constitutional examination of the media law violating freedom of speech and the freedom of press; the guarantee of the political independence of the media authority and the media-establishments; the abolition of possibility on the arbitrary and lopsided fine-assessments; to respect the notion of guaranteed privacy assured by law and the confidential resources of journalists; and lastly, the restoration of independence of the non-governmental news agencies.
In Hungary there have already been a few such media protests with a slowly enlarging crowd, and already another media demonstration has been announced for 27th January. These protests are most importantly peaceful, and while this time there has been some singing of old protest-hits from the previous Communist era, the event was cut short, mostly restricted to facts and to the announcement of the proclamation.
It is difficult to tell yet which branches of the media will be the primary target of the new law; whether it will only restrict the commercial channels, or whether political constraints should also be expected. Some demonstrators declared that no matter which is the case, any kind of media authority willing to substitute the competence of legislation amounts to a reality that violates the notion of the separation of powers. Meanwhile, Pál Schmitt, the current President in Hungary, stated that, currently, the question of human dignity in Hungary is much more a priority than freedom of speech is, and that revolts and outrage is simply against the government’s policy of making order in the media.