Coalition backs media bill; U.S. may benefit

The political stale mate that has impeded passage of media legislation crucial to opening Hungary’s TV market to private business interests ended Easter weekend – and a major beneficiary of this development could be U.S. investors with an eye on the Magyar market.

Cabinet ministers from each of the two parties that make up Hungary’s parliamentary coalition recently endorsed a draft of a media bill – clearing the route for its eventual passage and implementation.

When and if this bill is passed, it will be Hungary’s first post-Communist TV law and will enable Parliament to end the national licensing ban that has frozen commercial TV since the fall of the past regime in 1989.

Until now, analysts considered it highly unlikely a TV bill would reach Parliament this year. The two parties within Hungary’s ruling partnership (elected last May) had disagreed bitterly over crucial aspects of the proposed legislation, including issues such as whether to privatize one of two national frequencies currently controlled by state TV (Magyar Televizio, or MTV).

Unanimity within the ruling coalition over the TV bill now means that this draft law could reach Parliament as early as May for debate, and a vote. Justice Minister Pal Vastagh, the socialist party signatory of the draft, called the development “an important milestone” for ending Hungary’s media controversy.

So far, analysts are optimistic. “There is now a chance that something will happen… sooner than we had expected,” said Adam Levendel, director of the Budapest-based media research firm Szonda Ipsos.

Events bear out this optimism. In recent weeks, the government announced that 1,000 employees would be trimmed from state TV. The implications of this decision is that the government is now willing to take on the political “interests” within Parliament and the state TV bureaucracy, which have obstructed media reform since 1989.

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