New media law in Hungary creates stir

Critics say new rules will stifle free speech

Hungary’s government, led by the conservative Fidesz party, lashed out at international criticism of a media law that came into effect Saturday, the same day Hungary assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union.

The law’s detractors say clauses in the bill, which gives a central media authority headed by a government-appointed chairman the right to fine TV stations, radio outlets and newspapers almost $1 million for content deemed “not politically balanced” or offensive to “human dignity,” will stifle free expression.

A statement released Monday by Hungary’s Ministry of Justice called the storm of criticism “unfounded, and at times outright absurd.

“The Hungarian Media Act does not contain any element that has not been a well-established part of legislation in most European countries.”

Local press disagree, with a headline in daily newspaper Nepszabadsag declaring “Freedom of the press in Hungary has come to an end.”

The EU is reviewing the law as well as other actions taken by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which includes a protest lodged by 13 European corporations, including Deutsche Telekom, against new taxes on foreign investors.