Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Defending media pluralism in Hungary*

A magyar szöveg - itt (PDF itt). For Hungarian text - read here. (*Please feel free to reproduce this post in part or in full for your own website or publication, with attribution of the author) Over recent weeks serious questions have been asked by the European Commission about 30 new laws in Hungary, including a major constitutional revision, and these concerns continue. These laws have passed against the backdrop of a media law adopted in late 2010, which was found by the European Commission to put fundamental rights at risk, and by the Hungarian courts to breach the Hungarian constitution. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights clearly states that "the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected," and the EU has always stood up for media freedom and pluralism. Both the European Commission and I have defended press freedom and fundamental rights from the outset of the intense debate in Hungary over a year ago. In parallel we have continued to push for the expansion of the internet and the opportunities it provides, including as a vehicle for new media and free expression. That is significant, because however worrying the general media environment may be in Hungary, the opportunities of Hungarians to express themselves and access the opinions of others has grown immeasurably because 98% of Hungarians now have access to broadband internet. In 2011 the European Commission used the full extent of its legal powers to improve the Hungarian Media Law. The original version of that law could have breached fundamental rights and EU laws in four areas. Without hesitation I pushed for change and achieved those changes. These four issues comprise disproportionate application of rules on balanced information, application of fines to broadcasters legally established and authorised in other Member States, rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers and rules against offending individuals, minorities or majorities. In taking this action the Commission abided by the binding principle that the EU can enforce fundamental rights only in areas subject to EU law, while in other respects this is the task of national courts and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights. This left the Hungarian Constitutional Court to address matters of concern outside of EU law, which it did in a ruling on 19 December stating that media law "unconstitutionally limited freedom of the written press." The judgement continues to be valid after the recent judicial changes in Hungary. Some key elements of the judgement take immediate effect. For example, the court has tightened the conditions under which journalists can be required to reveal their sources; while the Hungarian media authority cannot compel media outlets to hand over data. Other changes must be made by 31 May 2012, including removing the institution of the Media Ombudsman and removing the obligation for the written press to "respect human dignity" and not to use its content to invade privacy. I urge the Hungarian authorities to respect this court ruling, and to implement it with the same speed and efficiency they applied to the Commission's assessment on the EU law aspects of this media law. But I know that media pluralism and freedom cannot be defined and defended by laws alone. At the end of the day the successful practice of pluralism depends also on an atmosphere and a political culture that supports these ideas. That is why we have followed up our legal demands on Hungary with an EU-wide high level group that is examining what media pluralism and freedom means in practice, and what can be done to improve the culture and law that supports it. That group is led by former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga of Latvia. We need to think seriously about whether the EU has sufficient powers in this area to meet public expectations about the defence of media pluralism. My point is that our freedoms must be defended in many ways – by journalists, by active citizens, by laws at the national and, if necessary, EU levels. No single action delivers us the freedom we cherish and no single action can take it away. And the risks that a given action poses for media freedom, or for political freedom in general, depend on the overall context. This overall context has heightened concerns about the way radio licensing is being handled in Hungary. Under EU law a national government is free to lay down general interest conditions when granting radio licenses, including cultural diversity, linguistic diversity and media pluralism - provided that the award procedure is objective, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate. But for the same reason that the EU allows media pluralism to be a factor in granting licenses, it is important to see the overall licensing regime in its national media context. The legality of individual licensing decisions is not necessarily the only issue. Such decisions can have wider implications and raise wider concerns. Especially when some worry that the underlying motive for setting new licensing criteria is to exclude existing, independent voices, rather than the opening up of new ones. In such an atmosphere it is especially important that the affected parties have their rights of appeal – in court – fully respected if they do not agree with a licensing decision. I wish also to point out very clearly that the EU does not place a limit on the number of radio licenses a Member State can issue. That is a matter for Hungary alone. It has been strongly argued by the authorities that new licenses have been issued on the basis of fair competition. But if that is true, then I also say 'the more competition the better.' I think there is room for more radio voices in Hungary, not less. More generally, I commit to doing what I can to show my support for vibrant internet radio in Hungary, which is not constrained in any way by limited radio spectrum. I will do that just as I support print and audio-visual media, online and offline. My commitment to you is to do all I can within my powers and with my own voice to ensure that Hungarians can participate in, hear and learn from the media of their choice. (*Please feel free to reproduce this post in part or in full for your own website or publication, with attribution of the author)
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Ron's picture

Wouldn't it be good that, if nothing has been achieved after one year with you intervening and a so-called high-level group dealing with the matter, this would be brought up on the highest level, e.g. by Commission President Barroso? And do you think the EU should also consider further legal steps provided by the Lisbon Treaty that demands certain democratic principles and fundamental rights for all member states? In other words, wouldn't it be time to get to another level of pressure as demanded by several political groups in the European Parliament?
Ion's picture

Hey Neelie, you don't have to defend the media pluralism in Hungary, it's doing alright, even without you. If you want to be useful for Europe, stop bragging and start investigating the racist language act in Slovakia.
Sarolta Davis's picture

Thank you very much for your blog. I'm sure you are aware of  that Hungarian journalists have been on hungerstrike for almost a month because of the manipulation of news items by the "official"  TV  and general cenconrship of the media. Could you, please speed up  all possible actions on your part.
Melinda's picture

Thank you Her Excellency for your support! The citizens of Hungarian republic appreciate it very much in a hope, that a strong link between us an Europe cannot be torn apart challanged even by a ruling government.
zolee's picture

I lived in a few countries until now, working as a photographer and what's happening now in Hungary it reminds me about Ceausescu's Romania in 1980's. I wunder if anything will happens in a next few months with or without EU
Jeff's picture

Why bother listening to you—you or your splendid "talents" (you know perfectly well of whom I'm talking about)? Right, radio certaintly is an important media—so is Internet! What do you intend to do against other villainies such as the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP)? I'll take a quick guess: damn nothing, right?! "Defending media pluralism in Hungary", that's a noble wish. But for credibility issues, you'd better consider strengthening media pluralism and freedom of expression online within the entire EU—not merely in Hungary! If you're serious about it (which I frankly doubt) there's a huge pile of work waiting to be done: Good luck!
Istvan Hamar's picture

Neelie Kroes wrote: "But if that is true, then I also say ‘the more competition the better.’ I think there is room for more radio voices in Hungary, not less." THE FACTS are the opposite: 1) The "Klubradio" has still licenses except Budapest. In the following cities/towns has it frequencies ouside of Budapest based on the information from the homepage of "Kubradio": Ajka, Balatonfüred, Debrecen, Esztergom, Gyöngyös, Kecskemét, Keszthely Pápa, Tatabánya, Veszprém 2) The frequency in Budapest was given to an other radio which means that there are MORE competitors. Obviously I cannot judge the selection process. I personally browse every day internet sites of major daily newspapers, major internet magazines and major TV/radio senders (7-8 sites in total, I do not have time to read more) and ALL of them report all the critiques of the opposition and the Word. ALL, ALL, ALL EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR!!!!!!!!!!!!
Avarage Joe from Hungary's picture

István!  This is bulls*** we both know...  In Hungary the mainstream media is in the hand of the Orbán's government. We have only a few real true/independent outlets: print: 168 óra, Magyar Narancs, HVG, Népszabadság, Népszava. Their total reach is not that significant (you can check it for yourself here: http://matesz.hu/data/) Klub Radio and ATV is the last two independent media., but they also have a small reach. The National News Agency (MTI), the National TV & Radio brodcasts and the press from the "right side" are doing ridiculous pr for the government. We all know it, and thanks God EU knows it too... We need the same solution like Italy and Greece.
Ion's picture

Average Joe, the capacity of your mind is far below average. ATV, Klubradio and all the others you mentioned are the media of the Hungarian extreme left, of those who are happy to see struggling the government and the Hungarian people. The EU should go and handle some REAL thread on the European democracies. On the first place it's the racist language act in Slovakia. So, Neelie, go for 'em, or go to hell.
Avarage Joe from Hungary's picture

Just two things: 1. Sorry about our government and our sick PM 2. Dear EU, please help us to SAVE our country! Thank you!
Zoli's picture

Dear Ms Kroes: I would like to highlight that when the "Media Authority" made decision, first they just disclosed the winner. It took them 3 days  to come up with a scoring system to show that Klubradio received 1 point less than the competitor (who are  "Strohmann", judging by the investigation of newspapers). Premier Orban hates Klubradio for sure. Today (January 6) they were the only media denied entry to cover his press conference. Already on October 14, 2011 they had to cease broadcasting in Ajka, Balatonfüred, Keszthely, Pápa and Veszprém.  Without Budapest, the station is not viable economically  in the remaining few small towns. The data you use, "98% has  broadband internet coverage in Hungary" is false. Most elderly people and/or poor people do not have access to the  internet. Their only reliable radio news source is Klubradio. The only  reliable  television news channel (that gives  more than headline news  and not only government propaganda) is ATV, but they have started to exercise self-censorship in my opinion. Let me also remark that a significant percentage of Hungarians do not speak foreign languages enough to be able to follow the news in that language. There are still opposition newspapers but old people tend to be poor in Hungary and some cannot afford to buy even a daily newspaper. Therefore, the Orban government and the Fidesz party will achieve its goal to exercise news monopoly over a significant part of the Hungarian population by eliminating Klubradio.        
Zoli's picture

Dear Ms Kroes: A little news from yesterday. I hope it helps you to understand the atmosphere in Hungary. Yesterday, the "Media Authority" ordered a service provider to take down a parody from the internet of the "impartial" public (turned Party) television channels, an excellent parody showing how they distort the news. The service provider promptly agreed and suspended the website. [I was able to watch it on youtube later, because, fortunately, youtube is not located in Hungary] http://nol.hu/belfold/kicenzuraztak_a_cenzura_miatt_cenzurazott_hiradot
marosy's picture

Dear Neelie Kroes, First of all, we don't need lessons on democracy from those who have played a shameful role in the massacre of Srebrenica. You don't have the moral background to do so. I didn't hear your voice at that time when more than 8000 innocent civilians have been brutally murdered at Srebrenica and now you are preaching about media pluralism in Hungary. We don't accept your colonialist attitude towards Hungary and Eastern Europe in general, as we are not an tropical colony of the  Netherlands, and we will never be. It was in the colonialist times when you could decide what kind of laws Aruba, Curacao or Indonesia could enact, who should be the leader and which ethnic group should be ruling. We have all seen the consequences of your colonialist attitude in the Indonesian massacre of 1947. What if we don't like your style of imperialist "democracy". Are you going to send troops  as you did in Indonesia? How many villages will you exterminate to impose your way of thinking and your style of "democracy"? Besides, I didn't hear your voice while the Gypsy community is being deported from France to Romania, reminding of Nazi times. Is this Europe? Is this democratic?    Oh wait, France is a super power which can't be criticized, while Hungary is a tiny nation. We will reject any intervention, as we did in 1956, and we will fight against the constitution imposed by the Soviet Union which was in place until this year. As for now the European Union doesn't seem to be any better than the Soviet Union. I think the legal procedure of exiting from the EU should be elaborated. Sincerely, Pál Marosi
Ion's picture

You're exactly right Mr Marosy, thank you!
Tom's picture

It's surprising how long it took for Super-Nellie to join the hordes. The Hungarian misery has become a good opportunity to everyone for kicking into a small country (it's not about Orban's government alone anymore) to prove what big democrats they are. The fact that Nellie Kroes, in all her wisdom, stands up for a mouthpiece for ex-Communist politicians and their media supporters makes it all the more ridiculous. Pity she did never listen to one of their EU-bashing talk-shows held for people who want Communism back.
Gary M's picture

Well said.  The people of Hungary  thank you for all the help and guidance you are giving them. Keep up everything you are doing. :-)
Herk Nafim's picture

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
retless's picture

Its a shame. Neelie Kroes didn`t have the good grace to do anything in the EU. She called a liar like zu Guttenberg as her advisor. People of Hungary, be warned about Neelie Kroes.
Kai Boroch's picture

Who want to talk about laws Mrs Kroes, have to respect Laws. As long you work with criminals like zu Guttenberg every word about law is ridicules you lost your credibility
Mike's picture

Just out of curiosity, Mrs. Kroes, when will you present us “pusztai Putyin” as newest talent for your dubious No[Dis]connect strategy? He perfectly suits important EuSSR habits: — exhibits strong associal attitude (“be with me or against me”) — fancies paternalism and overmighty state authority (double plus [good] from Cecilia Malmström!) — openly practises censorshop (not giving a shit on freedom of expression) — cheating and lying at a more proficient level (Guttenberg is just a neophyte) — exhibits strong associal attitude (“be with me or against me”) — seems to be resistent to all suggestions Please keep us informed which position you'll choose for him!

It saddens me to see so much pain in Hungary right now and so little being done to end it...
PTTH's picture

"Klubradio" = Postkommunistischer, durch Korruption, rechstwidrig vom Autoklub gekaufter (???)  Propagandasender - und das schützen Sie? Sehr geehrte Frau Kroes, ich bin sicher, dass Sie absolut keine Ahnung von den Ereignissen in Ungarn haben. 2010 begann erst die Wende und MP Orban ist auf dem besten Wege, Ungarn aus dem Sumpf herauszuziehen, wohin Ihre linksextremen Freunde das Land gebracht haben. SIE und Ihre Kollegen wollen Ungarn jedoch wieder hinter den Eisernen Vorhang der Postkommunisten drängen. WARUM INFORMIEREN SIE SICH NICHT, BEVOR SIE DIESE ROTEN GOEBBELS IN SCHUTZ NEHMEN? Gyurcsany: "I almost perished because I had to pretend for 18 months that we were governing. Instead, we lied morning, night and evening."
Soul's picture

Very strong implied accusations without justification of any real life example is a dishonest and demagogue tool. If there is a problem, make it clear. If you are unable to do so, refrain from judging, implied or otherwise. There was a public call for tender - uncontested while running - for which several proposals were received, and along the preset criteria, the best ones were awarded. All documentation is available to support the process and the decision. Neelie Kroes never bothered to ask for it. The authority responsible for the tender offered, twice, to provide this documentation, with consultation if needed. Neelie Kroes never bothered to respond. Insinuating alarming accusations seems to spring forth much more readily than a natural demand - technical AND moral - for any kind of objective and responsible assessment. Is that the "European" and "democratic" spirit? And by the way, there are 117 radio stations currently broadcasting in Hungary, with a further 200 or so streamed over the internet. Yet, Neelie Kroes is envisioning the death of pluralism and freedom. We would expect a lot better from our talented Commissioner - in order that we may take her, or the institute she represents, with any degree of seriousness.
1848's picture

That Hunger strike was a joke! It was a "rolling" hunger strike. so participants were struggling from Hunger for 4 hours than they went to home ago eat! Actually they are the communist agitprop media workers whom were installed by the post communists! They should be ignored and sentenced to death for crimes against humanity!
1848's picture

Liberals should not expect laws or such small problems of life, they are "above it"!
magyari's picture

Dear Mrs. Kroes, I am deeply outraged by your shameful, antidemocratic and sickening attacks against my country. On what grounds do you ask from an elected Hungarian leader to comply with a yet to be elaborated document of the Council of Europe? I am wondering who elected Mrs. Kroes to the European Commission? That's right, NOBODY.
Balna's picture

A few citations  from the Wikipedia-biography of Ms Neelie Kroes,  just to see who is the one we are facing with: http://balnaborju.blogspot.com/2012/02/look-whos-talking-now.html
Europaeer's picture

Thanks for contributing the link. One should also consider her age --- or the fact that she might be affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect ...
totti's picture

Dear Neelie Kroes, I am disgusted that in the 21st century there are still Dutch colonies, like Aruba. I don't think it is democratic to have colonies. Please address this issue before preaching to others about media pluralism. Besides, we don't need lessons on democracy from colonialists. Thanks.  
marosy's picture

Dear Neelie Kroes, It is shameful that you don't denounce the racist internet site of PVV from the Netherlands. http://www.meldpuntmiddenenoosteuropeanen.nl/ Before finger-pointing others please address the issue of this racist site in the Netherlands. Members of the Dutch parliament from the PVV party have started an internet site on which they incite to ethnic hatred. The EU commissioner for digital agenda has no reaction whatsoever. Is this the Dutch media-pluralism which you want to impose on the Eastern Europeans? In my opinion your political attacks against Hungary and Eastern Europe are in many ways similar to those of Geert Wilders. Is this your digital agenda? Your silence tells everything. Sincerely, Pál Marosi Pál Marosi
Jack SCHICKLER's picture

@Marosy, there is a more recent (14 February) blog on the issue you refer to (one in English, one in Dutch).
micka's picture

Dear Mrs. Kroes, I am deeply outraged by your shameful, antidemocratic and sickening attacks against my country. the proof : http://www.fluxmeet.com/cheval/ On what grounds do you ask from an elected Hungarian leader to comply with a yet to be elaborated document of the Council of Europe? I am wondering who elected Mrs. Kroes to the European Commission? That’s right, NOBODY.    
Übersetzung Englisch Deutsch's picture

I am disgusted that in the 21st century there are still Dutch colonies, like Aruba. I don’t think it is democratic to have colonies. Please address this issue before preaching to others about media pluralism.
click here's picture

Furthermore, the individual using keyboard might be unaware that his/her operation is being watched by an outsider. You will be able to keep them safe from harm. Almost 22% of targets of the online predators are aged between 10 and 17 in Facebook shows that nearly 25% children have been asked to see their online friends.
Alice's picture

well! The fact that Nellie Kroes, in all her wisdom, stands up for a mouthpiece for ex-Communist politicians and their media supporters makes it all the more ridiculous. Pity she did never listen to one of their EU-bashing talk-shows held for people who want Communism back.
John's picture

We don’t accept your colonialist attitude towards Hungary, Lookboard and Eastern Europe in general, as we are not an tropical colony of the  Netherlands, and we will never be. It was in the colonialist times when you could decide what kind of laws Aruba, Curacao or Indonesia could enact, who should be the leader and which ethnic group should be ruling.

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