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Fidesz to maintain hegemony over Media Council for nine more years

2019.12.03. 19:41

Once again, only Fidesz's nominees will get to be on Hungary's most powerful media regulatory body, the Media Council after Fidesz's MPs in the Parliament's ad-hoc nomination committee rejected all candidates of the opposition. 

The four nominees to the Media Council are Ágnes Hankiss (former MEP of Fidesz), László Meszleny (Fidesz's communications director in the early 2000s), Károly Szadai (Speaker László Kövér's former personal assistant), and László Budai, as the statement issued by the ad-hoc committee's chairman János Halász (Fidesz) informed on Monday evening.

The Media Council was created by Orbán's first government in 2010 during their overhaul of Hungarian media regulation which raised international concern for press freedom in Hungary.

The Council decides about radio frequencies, plays a significant role in appointing leaders of public media, and the Media Council's apparatus, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority determines the outcome of Competition Authority procedures concerning media acquisitions.

The primary task of the Media Council would be to preserve and maintain a democratic public discourse, however, the initial report of the fact-finding mission carried out by the International Press Institute and several other international organisations found that they are not exactly doing that. As IPI assesses, the one-party regulatory body has made decisions on the tendering of radio frequencies on political lines, dropping independent broadcasters, blocking mergers of independent media companies while facilitating concentration of pro-government media (although the merger ultimately creating the huge pro-government media conglomerate encompassing more than 450 titles was exempted from competition law by Viktor Orbán himself).

Members of the Media Council are elected by the Parliament for nine years. The outgoing Council also consisted purely of Fidesz's delegates, as not even Fidesz's satellite, KDNP was allowed near the Media Council.

Opposition: "This is a mockery of democracy"

On Tuesday, MPs from all opposition parties held a joint press conference in the Parliament assessing the ad-hoc committee's decision. Koloman Brenner (Jobbik) who was on the nomination committee characterised the nominations as a "mockery of democracy," adding that the opposition's goal was to be able to nominate at least two members to the 5-person council (which consists of four members and the president). He emphasised that the "great task before the opposition is to find a solution to the distorted media situation."

Zita Gurmai (MSZP) said that an omnibus bill passed in June granted the Media Council "powers that Vladimir Putin would envy," adding that Fidesz cemented their own people in the Media Council for nine more years, turning the regulatory body that  "only served the interests of Fidesz instead of the Hungarian citizens"   into a playground. Gurmai added that Fidesz is afraid for their power and it's clear as day that they would  "prevent their eventual fall with dictatorial methods."

Zsolt Gréczy (DK) was not surprised about the decision, he said Fidesz did exactly what was expected of them, stating that "press freedom in Hungary is dead." He added that the Hungarian media situation should be taken into account when discussing tying EU funds to rule of law criteria, saying: "We do not want to take money away from Hungarian citizens, Hungary needs those funds, but Orbán's government has to be taught a lesson."

Lóránt Keresztes (LMP) said Viktor Orbán's government had no intention to open towards European values and democratic operation. Olivio Kocsis-Cake (Párbeszéd) said that the nominations are outrageous, and the Media Council never has a word about Fidesz's propaganda media.

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