EC worried about Hungarian media laws

The European Commission has raised some free speech concerns over Hungary’s new media laws, which requires bloggers to register with the government.

Speaking at the European Parliament today, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, said that she had some very “specific concerns” over the Hungarian Media Act, suggesting that it may not comply with both the EU Audiovisual and Media Services Directive and laws on freedom of expression.

She said that she wrote to the Hungarian government and met with Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, about some of these problems, which include:

The requirement that forums and blogs, along with other media, both on and offline, be registered; the requirement that coverage of national and European events be balanced, regardless of the medium; the potential political control of the Media Authority that is made possible by the Act.

The first requirement is a clear attempt to control the media and not just the mainstream publications, but bloggers and forum users also. In fact, it’s very similar to recently introduced laws in Saudi Arabia, which also affect Average Joes making comments online.

The second requirement of balanced coverage is usually upheld by most state broadcasters, but the fact that simple bloggers will also be obliged to give unbiased accounts gives it a much larger impact, which hinders the ability express one’s opinion online.

“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of our democratic societies, recognised in the European Treaties and in the EU Charter of fundamental rights,” said Kroes.

She said that she expects Hungary to comply with EU laws before implementing this Act and said that the Hungarian Prime Minister promised to make changes to the Act to bring it into compliance if any part is found to conflict with EU rules.