Hungary ready for media law talks
The Hungarian government today said it was ready to talk to the European Commission about its controversial media law, and if necessary make changes to the law.
In a letter sent to the Commission today (31 January), Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s minister of public administration and justice, said that while he thought the media law was in line with EU rules, his government was ready to make changes if asked to do so.
“If the Commission, despite our arguments set forth in this letter, still deems it necessary to amend the Hungarian regulation with respect to the problems highlighted, we are prepared to commence drafting these modifications,” Navracsics said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by European Voice. “If you find it necessary, please make it possible for our experts to consult with Commission officials,” the letter continued.
The letter was addressed to Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for the digital agenda, who is reviewing the law to see whether it infringes EU legislation and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The Commission said in response that Kroes welcomed the offer of talks and the minister’s “clear indication” that Hungary was prepared to make changes.
“Kroes and her staff are eager to quickly discuss technical aspects with the Hungarian authorities in order to solve the problems raised as soon as possible,” the Commission said in a statement.
On 21 January, Kroes sent a letter to the Hungarian government warning that if the authorities did not answer the requests for information by 4 February, the Commission could launch infringement proceedings.
In the letter, Kroes said the Commission had “serious doubts” that the media law was compatible with EU rules. She said the Commission had concerns over details in the law demanding ‘balanced coverage’ by all media outlets that operate in Hungary. She said that the rule could unfairly discriminate against non-Hungarian media companies.
The Commission has also raised concerns whether the balanced reporting obligation complies with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is also concerned about registration requirements imposed on media outlets as part of the law.
Today’s letter aims to clarify those concerns, said Zoltán Kovács, Hungary’s junior minister for government communication. “We are calling for further discussions,” he said.
The letter said the media law does not discriminate against non-Hungarian media companies nor does it violate the EU’s rights charter. It added that Commission concerns that registration requirements for all media outlets could hinder single-market rules for media services “is without basis”.
In the letter, Navracsics said the Commission’s concerns over balanced coverage obligations were also unfounded, saying that extending the obligations to online media that make news and information programmes “is justified.” Kovács said online blogs were not covered by the law.
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Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament, said the letter was “totally inadequate” and failed to address the Commission’s concerns. He added that if Hungary refused to make changes, his group would push the Commission to “initiate legal proceedings” against Hungary.