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In yet another double standard, Brussels questions media freedom in Hungary

| February 26, 2019

By Andrea Bocskor

The Hungarian media situation featured on the agenda of the latest session of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT). During the course of the meeting, several members of the Committee observed that the media situation in Hungary is much more favorable than in many other EU member states. However, none of these countries are subjected to the same kind of criticism that Hungary must endure. Why is that?

As I pointed out, in Hungary – unlike in Slovakia and Malta – journalists are not murdered, but we don’t hear the same intensity of concerns about threats to the freedom of the press in those two countries. During the CULT Committee debate, an expert from the European Commission presented a report on the media situation in Hungary; however, his intervention showed obvious resemblance to the oft-repeated allegations of some well-known Soros-funded NGO’s.

Participants in the hearing attempted to assert the role of EU competition law in Hungarian domestic law. However, as a member of the Committee rightfully pointed out, the creation of the Central European Press and Media Foundation does not fall within the competence of the European Commission, so it has no authority in the matter, and the foundation’s managing falls completely within the realm of Hungarian internal affairs. As I told the Committee, media holding firms similar to the Hungarian one exist in several countries, and those did not pose a problem for European institutions. It’s a problem in the Hungarian case, I asserted, because Hungary transmits conservative, Christian values, and this holding is about preserving a national media.

Unsurprisingly, the subject of migration also came up during the debate. An Italian Socialist MEP claimed that Hungarian public television is playing a negative role because it draws attention to the dangers of migration. Milan Zver, an EPP MEP from Slovenia, responded that “it is an error on the part of the [CULT] Committee to criticize a Member State. The media is more balanced in Hungary than in Slovenia, and there is no investigation there.”

On freedom of media, we frequently hear claims that 80 percent of the Hungarian media is controlled by one of PM Orbán’s “cronies”. That’s quite a stretch. Media whose editorial stance is closer to the opposition in Hungary reaches a much wider segment of the public. Research shows that 69 percent of the media is still government-critical, and only 31 percent is government-friendly (in terms of total reach of media outlets). The online media, for example, is dominated by left-liberal giants. On this front, it’s safe to say that government-critical portals make up a clear majority.

It’s simply not an honest argument to assert that the freedom of media is vulnerable today in Hungary. Nothing restricts the appearance of opposition opinions or threatens journalistic freedom.