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Hungarian president signs into law Draconian Media Bill
Fri 31 Dec 2010 02:03 am filed by the Editor - Human Rights, International, Journalism, Europe
Hungary's president signed into law on Thursday 30 December controversial new legislation that gives the government greater control over news outlets, as criticism of the plans by the country's European Union partners mounted.
Citing the publisher of Hungary's official law gazette Magyar Kozlony, news website Origo said President Pal Schmitt had signed off on the bill, allowing it to go into force on Saturday, the same day Budapest assumes the rotating presidency of the EU.
European heavyweight Germany called on Thursday for the law to be amended, although Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will not bow to pressure to change it.
"I assume that the final word by the Hungarian government hasn't been spoken yet on this issue. It would be very good if this issue could be cleared up quickly," Werner Hoyer, German deputy foreign minister, told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
"We must ensure that basic rights are guaranteed in the European Union and a free press is among the core rights. If there are doubts they need to be eliminated. Even if I don't know the exact wording of the new law, there are indeed doubts."
Hungary's parliament passed the law last week. It establishes a new National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH), which is dominated by people loyal to Orban's ruling Fidesz party.
The body is to oversee all public news production and its powers will include levying big fines on private media that violate the law.
Media watchdogs say the law is arbitrary and ill-defined and several leading European newspapers have protested against it.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has said the law violates the "spirit and letter" of EU treaties and urged the European Commission to take swift action in response.