July 4th, 2011

Websites pull comments over media probe; official denies law applies to user-generated content

Numerous websites have terminated or strongly tightened up their readers’ comments sections in the wake of the media council enquiry into remarks that appeared on the website of the pro-Socialist daily Népszava.

Media and communications commissioner Jen Bodonovich wrote to Népszava on July 1, the day that the new media law came into effect, saying he had initiated an investigation into 18 readers comments underneath an article posted on June 8 entitled Pál Schmitt: Ferenc Mádl Was a Strong Personality.

Websites including index.hu, hetivalasz.hu, velvet.hu, delmagyar.hu, kisalfold.hu, hvg.hu and hirszerzo.hu responded to the news by entirely removing or strictly tightening their readers’ comments sections.

Index.hu announced that it had removed its comments section because the changed legal environment means “we have to play safe” and it cannot hire three people to monitor readers’ comments around the clock.

Népszava underlined that the media council is having trouble interpreting the media law, recalling that media council spokeswoman Kiricsi Karola’s statement that reader comments do not fall under the media law.

The left-wing daily noted that Bodonovich had launched the inquiry in response to comments, citing the media law.

Media council member András Koltay said on Sunday that the media law does not apply to comments, blogs or fora, and only to content published after June 30.

He 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.

The new media law includes a regulation that publications must not print opinions that “offend human dignity” and run counter to the basic values of a democratic state governed by the rule of law. However no one has yet revealed which comment provoked Bodonovich’s probe.

The media authority can also fine a publication for refusing to provide data or “not honouring it satisfactorily”.

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  • Paul

    He 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

    You would have thought that was the kind of knowledge a *Media and communications commissioner* would already know.

  • Farkas László

    Since January, twice they’ve reversed themselves publicly about the purpose and scope of this law- not something that inspires confidence. Whatever they say today, they can reverse themselves tomorrow. The best defense is a pre-emptive one; web owners should not give this Media Council any reason to hang them.

    What has the Council done in the last 6 months? Have they already used up half of their annual 65 billion HUF budget?

  • Farkas László

    We will need a specific act of Parliament defining the extent of web-page regulation and the permissability of opinions expressed thereon. The media law was not written (nominally) to apply to web-pages. What was the meaning of the Annamaria Szalai press conference a while back, announcing a hotline for objectionable web-content? How was that to be decided, by whom and under what statutes?

    Part of the problem with free speech in the country, is that even if you got rid of this media law and it’s expensive council, it’s proscriptions under Article 24 (as well as all the language pertaining to minors), have parallels under other laws, both Hungarian and EU. Media law or no media law, many forms of expression are illegal (and hence in theory actionable).

  • newsreader

    The problem is that it is very hard, if not impossible to legislate human decency. If people are not willing to stick to basic norms of human interaction, such as mutual respect, truthfulness, authenticity, search for the common good, no media council or any other watchdog is going to fix the problem. There is only one good reason I can see for establishing laws and commission for policing people’s freedom of expression (verbal, written or other), namely to work for its abolishment, and by making it obsolete. The latter, however, is only possible if partisan attitudes and the corresponding adversarial approach (distrust, hate, etc.), even if not eradicated, but becomes tamed and stops being the dominating factor in social (especially political) interaction.

  • Krumpli

    Newsreader. It is obvious you live in some kind of dream world, or bubble, that fails to understand human nature and all its shortcomings.
    It is far better to let the mob voice its opinion and let off steam on these pages without government interference in the shape of the big brother, media law tactic, than the alternative,probably, World War 111.

  • newsreader

    Did you read what I wrote?

  • Paul

    The latter, however, is only possible if partisan attitudes and the corresponding adversarial approach (distrust, hate, etc.), even if not eradicated, but becomes tamed and stops being the dominating factor in social (especially political) interaction

    For Orban, “hate” is a strategic tool used to demonise those he places outside his tent.

    He is incapable of engaging opposing political opinion either at home or abroad in a respectful way and it is not surprising then that those on the other side now reciprocate. If people threaten to kill him or members of his party, then fine, that is a line which has been crossed in any democracy and is one which should be punished by the law of the land. If hate language is employed against any religious or ethnic group, again that is something which should be punished.

    Other than that, the boundaries in any fully-functioning democracy should be near enough non-existant- if I thought that he were filthy, fascist, lying scum (which, of course, I don’t) then I should be permitted to share that opinion with the wider audience. It hasn’t added to intelligent political discourse, but then, so what? Why should I be *tamed* merely because of my “adversarial” approach? Is the eventual aim the kind of “intelligent, non-adversarial discourse” enjoyed in such bastions of freedom as Belarus

    • newsreader

      If you descend to the schoolyard rhetoric of “he started it” which usually means “he started by hitting back”, than any kind of reconciliation has failed before it started.

      Hatred usually starts by putting ones own interest above everyone else’s, and by believing that one has all the truth and the other has no truth at all, and consequently the other can be dismissed as a human person. The ideological (political, racial, religious, etc.) justification of such attitude is subsequent. Therefore, if you want to be taken seriously, you cannot start your comment by hanging all responsibility for the conflict on your opponent (the one you can’t stand), in your case Orban. By doing so, you show your inability to approach the issue with any sense of objectivity and you are pursuing a confrontational approach.

      I agree, and I said pretty much the same thing, any law/restriction for policing of free speech/expression is a sign of failure of society. And yes, if people see something that is not right, one has to call and name it what it is. But before you make your judgment, you must listen, because usually there is at least some truth in what your opponent has to say. The reason for saying that one cannot approach the other with an adversarial attitude is that it prevents one from hearing the truth (no matter how little or big) in what the other has to say, it deprives the other from his/her basic dignity.

      • Szabad Ember

        You have some well-reasoned, logical points, yet you often don’t follow your own logic when commenting here… interesting!

  • Paul

    With regards your first two paragraphs; what you seem to object to most is what you perceive as my dehumanising of Orban? And this dehumanising of one’s opponents prevents any reconciliation within a divided Hungary, this reconciliation, you seem to be arguing is the purpose behind the Media Law.

    Orban doesn’t use “hate” as a strategic *political* weapon?
    Is he, presently, attempting reconciliation with those on the left and liberal wing of society (and in the wider EU)?

    I’ll leave those as rhetorical questions, the answers, which you know as well as I do, demonstrate the impossibility of any approach other than confrontational with him and his party.

    And yes, if people see something that is not right, one has to call and name it what it is.

    In your opinion, that maxim should apply to journalists, in all cases (assuming where facts and not opinions are required they get them right)?

    But before you make your judgment, you must listen, because usually there is at least some truth in what your opponent has to say

    And if I still disagree with my opponent, short of wishing him a very long and painful death, do i have the right to publicly express that opinion in any form I want?

    You used the word “tamed” earlier, which I thought was very interesting when also speaking simultaneously about “reconciliation”. Your use of that word suggests to me that your answer to both questions would be “no”?

  • Farkas László

    The more I think about it, getting a job on this media council sounds like a nice way to go! Given their huge annual budget, I wouldn’t hesitate put in a request for a chauffeur driven Maybach staff car (maybe some small flags on the fenders, to make it look all the more like a VIP vehicle). Seems like an easy life!

  • newsreader

    Relax. I think, in part, you are misunderstanding my comments. You are taking my comments way too personally. In English there is a difference between: a)“you” as reference to the person addressed by the speaker; b)“you” as a reference to the person addressed by the speaker together with any person, including the speaker.

    In general, I was not talking about you personally, but about “you” in general sense as in “one”. So, don’t get so defensive and combative. Re-read what I have written with this in mind.

    Beyond this, I believe that Hungarian political life still has lots of growing-up to do. This is the ugly downside of the so-called ‘smooth transition’ during the regime change: the old scores were never settled. The basic paradigm for the current political life is still the battle lines of the Revolution of 1956, which means that your (one’s) political opponents are not only your (one’s) opponents, but personal enemies. This is true for both sides.

    In a normal democracy the parliamentary opposition is called the “loyal opposition” which is not there sabotage the work of the parliament but to enhance it by fully participating in its work. In a normal democracy politicians are not personal enemies, and in their private lives they actually respect each other as people. In Hungarian politics this is not the case, as it can be seen from what happens in the parliament and from the comments here and in other media. People from both sides (perhaps for different reasons) seem to be fossilised in this hate-filled, fight-until-death, choke hold. It is an infantile behaviour and it is terrible to watch. Now, please don’t start complaining about why Orban and Fidesz are responsible for all this. Both sides are responsible. A mutual recognition of this would be a beginning of ther ‘taming’ you were asking about.

    • Szabad Ember

      Sounds like you wrote this after receiving your little cupful of medication! I hope you make this a habit.

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