July 1st, 2011

Left-wing newspaper Népszava reportedly first target as Hungary’s controversial media law comes into force

Media and communications commissioner Jen Bodonovich is examining a story published on Népszava‘s website to see whether it violates new media regulations that enter into force today, the newspaper writes.

Bodonovich, acting on the initiative of communications state secretary Zoltán Kovács, is looking into “outrageous and irreverent” contributions regarding the funeral of former head of state Ferenc Mádl.

Bodonovich is investigating remarks “affecting Mádl and President Pál Schmitt,” the newspaper writes.

Népszava says it could not find out which remarks he objected to specifically.

Several new regulations based on the new media law that apply to the print and online media enter into force from today, specifiying fines for publishers and editors, Népszabadság reports.

One regulation bans abuse of assent given for a statement, guaranteeing the right of a person to revoke that statement.

Content considered harmful to the development of minors is banned, as is hate-mongering against individuals, nations, communities, churches, minorities or “a majority”.

Covert advertising is also banned. In addition, ads may not encourage anyone to display conduct harmful to health, safety, and the environment. It is forbidden to advertise tobacco, arms, ammunition, explosives or prescription medication.

Other regulations mandate respect for human dignity, human rights, and private life.

The maximum fine under the law is Ft 25 million for daily newspapers, Ft 10 million for national weeklies, Ft 5 million for other periodicals and up to Ft 25 million for online media.

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  • Viking

    Bodonovich, acting on the initiative of communications state secretary Zoltán Kovács, is looking into “outrageous and irreverent” contributions regarding the funeral of former head of state Ferenc Mádl

    Népszava says it could not find out which remarks he objected to specifically

    And no one has a clue to what those “outrageous and irreverent” comments are?
    Seems to have upset a lot of people, or shows that communications state secretary Zoltán Kovács is the only one reading the paper…

  • Here’s the real kicker: If they really do make Népszava – and some unkind comments about a politician – the first “action item” for the new law, one has to wonder if the whole thing is a calculated poke in the eye at “international opinion.” Because, really, this will have repercussions, and potentially serious ones. Interesting!

  • Fed up

    Democracy FIDESZ style.

  • Paul

    At least we no longer have “Democracy MSZP style.

    (Hopefully that means this post now meets with the new “balance” criteria)

    • djoci

      I really wish I was so easy to satisfy as you are.

    • American in Budapest


      Constitutional rights were far stronger under MSZP than Fidesz.

  • Farkas László

    About a month ago a “hotline” for offensive webpage content was announced. When I read that, I went into overdrive around here posting non stop for a whole week about the media law and how it could affect us. I also warned Erik in private that I think the Media Council will start swinging the ax pretty soon. Erik’s response to this climate of legal jeopardy has been exemplary, and I feel he has done his utmost to comply with this draconian and overbroad law. The changes made around here, especially those pertaining to commenting rules, were driven by necessity, as the web owner can not and should not take personal risk for opinions expressed by others. Those who want to flaunt Article 24 of this law, or who want to risk a “minors” charge under it, have to do so on their own website or one owned by someone who is willing to assume such risk.

    I knew it was coming; it was just a question of when and who the first victims were going to be. I also expressed suspicion that this law was politically motivated with the intention of silencing political opposition- especially as it was a “PC” law that could be used to bludgeon the nationalist and neo nazi right and their websites. The interesting surprise to me in the above announcement is that they chose as their “entree” a target on the left. This “target” is fat enough to be milked for the heavy fines that the law allows for. The end result will likely be a penitent and compliant Népszava. Also interesting is that they are invoking the “minors” charge, which the media law gives genrous provision for. Rotting the minds and souls of youth is one of the most all encompassing and slanderous of accusations that a censor has.

    Once they are done with this appetiser, they will move on to a main course or series of courses that I think will feature some on the right. If you own a website or publish or broadcast, my advice is to take this legislation seriously and don’t run afoul of it. The 9 man media council’s importance of mission and purpose was signalled to me by it’s mind boggling 65 billion HUF annual budget. That alone told me that they were serious about all of this.

  • American in Budapest

    But they can’t do anything if the web site is hosted outside of Hungary by a non-Hungarian company. Correct?

    And will the European Union tolerate suppression of free speech?

  • djoci

    Dear politics.hu,

    The name of the person mentioned is JENŐ Bodonovich. Please correct it if you can. Thanks.


    “Bodonovich, acting on the initiative of communications state secretary Zoltán Kovács, is looking into “outrageous and irreverent” contributions regarding the funeral of former head of state Ferenc Mádl.

    Bodonovich is investigating remarks “affecting Mádl and President Pál Schmitt,” the newspaper writes.

    Népszava says it could not find out which remarks he objected to specifically.”

    Is he looking for contributions by employees of Népszava or is he examining the comment section? I think there is a huge difference, though wishing someone’s death, for example, tends to be more common among radical commenters.

    I think this examination of Népszava is more of a warm-up session for the media law. If the govt. and commissions were so independent as they say they are, they could have examine a newspaper from the “other side” as well, or examine different topics, too.

  • Broadbent

    Shit governments are just that – past, present, or future.
    No amount of repression, or suppression, will alter that fact!

  • Farkas László

    Hi AIB,

    For now, it would seem that a foreign website owner is exempt from direct action. The law was originally written for commercial media, which also included foreign carriers operating within Hungary, but then they were later exempted. The possibility that a foreign media can be blocked from access within Hungary does exist.

    Your other question, as to whether the EU will tolerate this, will have to be tested through a court appeals process. The Media Council is most likely to be a “kangaroo court” (one where a guilty verdict is a foregon conclusion); they wouldn’t bring you up unless they felt they had their reason to nail you. The MC’s ruling can be appealed in a Hungarian court, which then can be appealed in the European Court in Brussels. It would be a fight few would have the stomach or the money for- as the MC can clean you out with daily fines and suspensions while they decide your case, in addition to any other fines they impose upon judgment.

    • Viking

      The MC’s ruling can be appealed in a Hungarian court

      The most contested part of this Administrative Ruling/Punishment was the amendment that was done to the New Media Law that the fined party must pay up, before appealing to an Hungarian Court of Law
      Given that Hungarian Courts are not known to be very fast, the time you get back your money, they will be worth much less..

      • Farkas László

        Hi Viking,

        It all goes to show that only a “deep pocket” defendant (who is willing to fight on through an appeals process for years) could go through with a challenge to the law. Perhaps a newspaper or TV station could do it, but few website owners have the resources or the revenue stream.

        To appeal a decision in Brussels would no doubt cost a fortune in legal fees, as the fancy lawyers one would have to engage in order plead before the European Court work for 300-500 Euros per hour (that’s per lawyer, and not per firm).

        One of the ironies is that the nationalist right, which was always opposed to EU membership and who are likely to become the target of this law, may someday have no recourse but to appeal to Brussels.

    • American in Budapest

      Hi Farkas,

      My general impression is that Fidesz is not very clever. Very right wing, but without adroitness of a Putin.

      Timing the media law right before the European Presidency is a good example. If Fidesz was completely cynical, then they would be extremely dangerous. However, Fidesz strikes me as a bunch of amateurs who sincerely believe in their ‘Hungary for the Hungarian’ policy.

      Such ‘true believers’ usually self explode. Fidesz will explode. The question will be how rapidly can one unravel all the damage they have done to the Hungarian Constitution.

      Regarding the EU, it can act and probably will act if the Media Council becomes oppressive. Lately the the EU has been consumed by the debt crisis. But the EU wil not continue sending billions of Euros to a country that goes totalitarian. Even soft authoritarianism won’t be tolerated.

      Not only will Hungary’s finances deteriorate when the industry taxes disappear (and there is considerable pressure to reduce them since the Hungarian credit crunch is partly due to the tax on bank profits), but there is a pending energy crisis.

      Below is global crude oil production during the last eleven years. As production goes into decline this decade, a country like Hungary will experience a very severe crisis since the railroad and public transportation systems here are undeveloped. This crisis is emerging today as Brent oil trades at $112 a barrel in a very weak global economy.

      Fidesz won’t survive a combination of a fiscal crisis together with skyrocketing energy prices.

      Average Daily Global Oil Production: 2000-2009

      2000: 71,306
      2001: 70,922
      2002: 70,122
      2003: 72,464
      2004: 75,723
      2005: 76,937
      2006: 76,767
      2007: 76,529
      2008: 77,531
      2009: 76,286

  • spectator

    “…may not encourage anyone to display conduct harmful to health, safety, and the environment…”

    So, according to the above quoted sentence, please, do not mention Mr.Orban, Fidesz or the Media Council anymore, in order to comply, because they are indeed harmful to health, safety, and the environment!

    By the way, the incriminated comment on the Népszava website happened to written on the first day of July?
    Or this “law” has retroactive effect as well?

  • Farkas László

    Hi Spectator,

    I believed for some time now that they had a “target list” all along and are only now starting to proceed against the first of what could be a number of defendants. They probably knew who they wanted to go after even before the media law was passed.

  • Attila

    Farkas, in your opionion, what is the end game of this new law? Is it to simply to quiet the voice of opposition or is it to try and enforce censorship in a way to consolidate power? At what point will EU membership trump a member nation’s internal legislation?

  • spectator

    Hi FL&Co!
    Turned out, that not everyone equally retarded after all, in the Media Council!
    Shortly: The law applies only to the edited content, the comments don’t count, non even after moderation!
    The law effecting only content what was published after the 30th of June, so the host of the above mentioned comment can not be punished because of this.
    They fiercely scrutinizing it, mind you to find a grip somehow, but this is the state of the case, so far, anyway.

    However, the printed media entirely different matter – whatever printed, has to be edited before, so there is no excuses…

    To those, who reads Hungarian:

  • newsreader

    I love this! All the comrades out here in force predicting the end of the beginning, the dawn of doomsday, actually did not know what they are talking about, again … because, simply put they never read the law.

    As Spectator points out, the law does not even apply to this issue. Relax folks, nobody is going to be shut down, fined or put into prison. I know, you guys were salivating for something like this, but, imagining the great international reaction, from all the well-informed commissions. No matter how disappointing for you, it did not happen. I do not blame you for jumping to conclusions so quickly, the habits of fifty years dictatorship, ingrained in your bones, is not easy to leave behind.

    Maybe the Media Council just played a nasty trick, and it worked. They presumed that the people at Nepszava, just like the kneejerk ideologues here, did not actually read the law either, and they would make a big thing out of a simple follow-up on a citizen’s (otherwise inane) request, by the Council (which they are obliged to do if they want to remain objective and even handed).

    So, just like Nepszava, you managed to make a fool of yourselves as well. Congrats!

    • American in Budapest

      Newsreader, everything indicates that Fidesz does not understand the principles of well functioning democracy, which includes seperation of powers, freedom of free speech and assembly, institutional independence, etc.

    • spectator

      I knew, that my language-skills are inferior to the most, but still..

      – The expression “not everyone equally retarded” only refers to the level, which is “not equal”, some more, some less, you know.
      – The fact, that different members of the Council interprets the same law differently, signifies the confusing nature of the “law”, to me, anyway.
      – As the obviously wrongly dated complain and the instinctive, overly zealous reaction proved it, the kind people in the Media Council only saving their own ass: this action could have been stopped by anyone with a minor law-degree, so they decided to let it ride, for the time being.
      – Actually, so far the Council made a fool of themselves, by jumping on an obviously groundless request. Having confronting statements regarding the same issue, doesn’t seem to lift their reputation either, does it?
      – Hearing the “learned” leader of the Council a few times, I have no doubts that only question of time before they’ll come up with a “solution”, pretty soon, I’m afraid. In our case here I look forward to read my comments translated by the equally “learned” people who just did translated the infamous rap…

      Going to be an experience, really!

  • Farkas László

    How this law is going to be applied remains to be seen. Both it’s wording and actual implementation are open questions. Again, for those who want to flaunt Article 24 as well as the othe provisions of this statute and take the risk, feel free to do so- but the editor of this website has shown no inclination to “play”. As to how many citizen hotline complaints the Media Coucil needs to feel like they have to act is up to them. If I owned a website of opinion such as this, I would act pre-emptively (which is what Erik did), with the assumption that objectionable content can be acted upon.

    Those who are skeptical that such a law could be applied against a webpage such as this, might want to consider paying Erik’s fines and loss of business “just in case” you turn out to be wrong.

    Also, there is nothing to prevent the Media Council from tightening the screws further in the future. Given it’s funding, this council will be around for many many years, unless the law is repealed.

    Dear Attila,

    Given that political websites and newspapers are the biggest potential violators under this statute, the law stands to be invoked most against them. It has to have political ramifications. Do keep in mind that they’ve hardly begun enforcement of it.

    My suggewtion for ending this discussion and uncertainty is blunt- repeal the hotline and repeal the law.

  • Farkas László

    Hello Spectator,

    I looked at the Hungarian link. My problem with this announcement is that it should have been made when “Annamaria Szalai” staged her press conference over a month ago. (Even if she did, her statements don’t carry stutory authority.) There is nothing in the statute about “July 1”. It all smacks of an “ad hoc” approach to a law and situation that can still have dire consequences. (We can ask Erik if he feels sufficiently reassured to undo the changes around here.) Who’s to say what they will decide tomorrow? The Media council isn’t bound by “stare decisis” (precedent), meaning they can reverse themselves anytime.

    Again, end the jeapordy, end the discussion by repealing the law. Find something else to do with 65 billion HUF.

  • Paul

    Constitutional rights were far stronger under MSZP than Fidesz.

    American in Budapest, it was my (apparently unsuccessful) attempt at sarcasm.

    Maybe the Media Council just played a nasty trick, and it worked.

    Implying a level of sophisticated intelliegence which has not been their hallmark so far. Bear in mind that it was a Fidesz apparachnik that brought the complaint to light- does he look more or less stupid now after Ms Szalai’s intervention? This government manage to perform simultaneously the dual-roles of the playground bully and Mr Bean on a very bad off-day. The latter characteristic is probably what is presently protecting our democracy… the day they achieve even a modicum of efficient competency is the day Orbanistan will have become the reality.

  • newsreader

    I love the mental gymnastics. Just carry on, it is great to watch. This, however, does not change the fact that Nepaszava, and you guys, simply … screwed up.

    • djoci

      Someone started an investigation related to something that was supposed to be editorial content (thus eligible for an inquiry) but “Népszava says it could not find out which remarks he [Bodonovich] objected to specifically.”

      Then another news item says, “He [András Koltay] said ‘to the best of his knowledge’ Bodonovich is trying to ascertain whether the text falls under the media regulation at all, because he can only launch inquiries in connection with editorial content.” So most likely he has no authority to inquire (otherwise, I presume, he would have already done that).

      Now who screwed up what?!

  • Mike

    The new media law and its interpretation will be cause for argument and debate for sometime to come, I shouldn’t wonder.
    Erik has nothing to worry about except for the diabolical mess he has made in trying to improve this site.
    He should apply for a job with Fidesz! What a mess they have made of the country, already.
    Orban Viktor, and Gyurscany Ferenc: can it get any worse?
    The aliens came to collect me two years ago…I should have accepted their offer.

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