12/28/10

Hungary's Media Law

In case you missed it (or read the blog though an RSS reader), I've dropped the "Thoughts on Taxes, Transportation and Television" as a subtitle/description of the blog. Aside from assuaging my guilt about not posting nearly enough on taxes or television, I now feel that I have the editorial freedom, no- editorial mandate, to blog about the remainder of my many other diverse interests. Or something. Here's Anne Applebaum on Hungary:
But victory wasn't enough for Orban, who used his years out of power to plot his revenge against the journalists who didn't support him, against the chattering classes who didn't vote for him, and, above all, against his corrupt and incompetent opponents. Since taking office less than a year ago, he has appointed a council to rewrite the constitution, deprived the national audit office of funding, and stripped powers from the supreme court.
More recently, his parliament passed a set of laws governing the media. It's hard to say how they will work, given how vaguely they are written, but that is precisely the point: A new, state-run media council, composed entirely of Fidesz appointees, now has the right to impose fines of up to $1 million for journalism it considers "unbalanced," whatever that means. The council is also tasked with protecting "human dignity," whatever that means. The law seems to aim to control not just Hungarian media but media available to Hungarians on the Internet or anywhere—a task that is impossible, as one watchdog points out, but that will require the creation of a massive system of surveillance and control anyway. There is even a government-mandated cap on "crime-related news," which cannot take up more than 20 percent of airtime—though the law does not define "crime" or state whether it includes government corruption.
Orban seems impervious to foreign criticism of this stunningly bad law, possibly because he has heard too much of it in the past. I was in Budapest earlier this month—I won a prize from Hungary's excellent museum of totalitarian historyand heard many complaints about unflattering coverage of Hungary in the international media. What Fidesz supporters really hate are stories that make liberal use of the word fascism, as well as those (usually in the German press, which loves this kind of thing) featuring photographs of mustachioed men in elaborate uniforms, waving the national flag—as if all Hungarians looked like that.
First of all, it's entirely true that all Hungarians have uniforms and mustaches and waive nationalist flags pretty much all of the time. That is, when they're not ladling gulyasleves on top of the szalami sandwiches they store in their paprika-stained secret boxes and dancing to a csardas at a thermal bath named after a 19th century martyred national poet/hero, all while simultaneously drinking palinka and bikaver to lament the loss of Transylvania, sewing an elaborate design on a table cloth and explaining why the greatest football team of all time  was the aranycsapat (6-3!) and that all of the most important Nobel Prize winners were the truest of Magyars.
But more to the point, this law is abominable and entirely out of sync with a modern democracy. But then again, after the coronation of King Viktor, we won't need to worry about holding Hungary to the standards of a modern democracy.

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