And it is a major problem: Hungary’s new media law.
Bloggingportal.eu launched a European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary and also provides a good round-up of reactions and some background documents (just go through the comment thread!)
I don’t want to repeat the points that were made elsewhere. It is never a good idea to pass a law that can be used (even if nobody wants to use it in a specific way) to increase political control over the press. Even the slightest possibility of a a problematic legal clause needs to be addressed. Press and media freedom are too important for democracy in Europe. Simple as that.
As you know Hungary will take over the Council Presidency of the EU in January 2011. And there is even a new blog by the HU presidency. So feel free to voice your concern about the new law. Obviously they are not amused about the critical reactions and claim that the Council Presidency has nothing to do with Hungarian politics. But the new media law seems such a major problem that I think it is a legitimate thing to do. And anyway, the Council Presidency is organised by the Hungarian government… It would be a major embarrassment if the Council presidency was overshadowed by the media law…
So let’s take a picture of Viktor Orbán and transform him into Viktor #Censorbán (yes it is inspired by schäublone, #zensursula & #censilia). Basically it is a wordplay of Viktor Orban and Censorship. In other languages one could use Zensorban or Cenzorbana… the idea is quite flexible. Feel free to use, remix and share the picture (cc by-nc-sa). As you will notice, I am not a professional photoshop/gimp user and I did not have a good picture of Orban in the first place. So any quality improvements are much appreciated. Not sure whether this also makes sense in Hungarian as I do not speak the language. (so if you speak Hungarian leave a comment with improvements!) I know that it should rather read “Censorban Viktor” but well, let’s say it is designed for an international audience.
But there are a couple of things that we should think about in more detail:
First of all: It seems to me that media freedom and internet freedom are increasingly attacked by democratic governments around the world and Europe is following the trend. There are two principal strategies:
Option No 1: A government wants more control over the press or the internet. It is interesting to think about why this happens more frequently ( – and not understanding the internet is a big part of it) Usually it is framed as a security problem: “We need to know more about terrorist networks” or it is about the children: “We have to protect our children” . It can also be the result of intense industry lobbying to “protect customers and offer a better product” or it is connected to copyright issues. All these claims are very difficult to challenge in any campaign. (but it is not impossible!) Just think about the French internet blocking law, a couple of German internet laws (from “zensursula” to “JMStV”) or even international negotiations that include internet related articles such as ACTA. The debate on net neutrality can also be cited in this context. But the Hungarian law seems to go one step further as it us includes all types of media plus a governmental media watch dog…
Option No 2: A toxic combination of private and public interests mixed with strange business models, corruption and media monopolies. For example Murdoch in the UK, Berlusconi in Italy or the general level of corruption in Bulgaria that also affects the media. This is usually a gradual but equally dangerous process. (but also a topic for another blog post…)
The main question for the EU: What to do with those countries? The accession process is a straight forward process: Copenhagen criteria and conditionality prevent countries to adopt certain laws. However, once a country joined the EU there are not many possibilities to interfere with laws that might not be in the “spirit of the EU”. Italy or France can get away with laws that would not be allowed under a strict accession regime. And it is similar in the case of Hungary. So what could be done? Ignoring certain people in Council meetings (it did not work with Austria), reduce or stop payments of the cohesion funds/CAP or a suspension of voting rights in the Council? To impose a supervisory mechanism (mixed results in Romania and Bulgaria)? I am not convinced any of this would have an effect. But do we really need a new legal tool regarding fundamental freedoms?
The main question for the blogosphere: How to campaign against the various laws and legal practices that restrict press freedom (not only Hungary)? Media freedom in other (European) countries should be of concern for the (European) blogoshphere(s). So the question is whether this topic could potentially become a pan-European topic? There have been great blogging campaigns in Germany and France relating to press and internet freedom. We need to learn from successful campaigns in other EU countries and replicate the most efficient tools. And especially for smaller countries support from the rest of the EU might be crucial to run effective campaigns. In fact, it is one of the few topics that resonate with all national (political) blogospheres in Europe - which is not a surprise as every blogger can identify with the potential problems of a proposed law.
So what should be done with the Hungarian media law? Let’s keep the topic on the agenda, use the Council presidency to get EU wide media coverage – and embarrass the Hungarian government.
Update 27/12: Now you can also follow @censorban on twitter…
Update 30/12: SME Dennik, one of the biggest daily newspapers in Slovakia, mentions the bloggingportal campaign alongside the Censorban pic (although attributed to bloggingportal.eu which is not a problem – but a factual mistake) Anyway, the article can be found in the print (e-paper) and online version of the paper!