BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s ruling party is prepared to amend a controversial new media law if it proves problematic to implement, a Fidesz politician said on Thursday after the legislation triggered outrage across Europe.
Hungary’s parliament passed a law on Tuesday to tighten government control over news outlets, which media watchdogs said was arbitrary and ill-defined and which prompted strong protests in several leading European newspapers.
Under the legislation, which the Hungarian government says is in line with similar laws in other EU member states, the new media authority — dominated by officials loyal to Fidesz — will oversee all public news production and its powers will include levying big fines on private media that violate the law.
The law, pending the signature of the president, is due to take effect on January 1.
Janos Lazar, head of the Fidesz parliamentary group — which has a two-thirds majority in parliament — told commercial channel TV2 on Thursday that Hungary wanted to try a new regulatory model, but the law could be amended if necessary.
“If the (media authority) applies it in a wrong way, or there are problems, as a result of objections parliament will change this law, you should not have any doubts,” Lazar said.
“Our aim is not to wage a war against the Hungarian press as the conservative side has always lost that in the past 20 years...but to try to regulate issues which have not been regulated so far in order to improve...the media in Hungary.”
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn criticised the law and urged the European Commission to take swift action.
“The plans clearly violate the spirit and the letter of EU treaties,” Asselborn said, adding: “It raises the question whether such a country is worthy of leading the EU.”
Hungary takes over the rotating EU presidency from Belgium in January 2011.
Lazar said Asselborn did not represent the views of the Luxembourg government. “The Luxembourg foreign minister carries the flag of his party...and he stated the stance of his party, not his country.”
On Wednesday, Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza expressed solidarity with the Hungarian media with a front page splash in the Hungarian language saying Prime Minister Viktor Orban wanted “to silence” the media.
German papers Die Welt and Handelsblatt also published highly critical articles about Hungary’s media law.
Since Fidesz won elections in April, it has put its own people into key posts in public institutions such as the financial regulator and the state audit office, and is poised to fill the central bank’s rate setting Monetary Council with its own candidates in March.
Critics have called the media law heavy-handed, saying it does not clearly lay out what news outlets have to do to comply.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the law violated OSCE media freedom standards and endangers editorial independence and media pluralism.
“I am concerned that Hungary’s parliament has adopted media legislation that, if misused, can silence critical media and public debate in the country,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said on Wednesday.
Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton