Hungary: demonstrators demand independence of public service media


The Hungarian public media MTVA became on Monday 17 December the focal point of the protest movement that started last week in the capital against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, over the passing of new bills, including the so-called “slave law”.

According to media reports, thousands of demonstrators gathered outside state public broadcaster MTVA headquarters. About ten opposition members of parliament (MP) entered the building with the aim to read the demands of the protesters live on air. The requests included the overturn of a controversial labour law, the annulment of the judicial reform and a call for more independence and objectivity in Hungarian public media. The TV station refused to broadcast the petition and two MPs were thrown out of the offices.

Media pluralism in Orbán’s Hungary have been considerably weakened these last few years, following a series of media closures and takeover, illustrated by changes in editorial policy, limited accesses to funding through the government advertising, or the replacement of investors eventually making impossible to compete with pro-governmental media. A month ago, the creation of a big media conglomerate was denounced as another blow to media freedom and media pluralism in the country.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed its solidarity with the Hungarian citizens and joined the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ) in calling on the government and public media representatives to guarantee MTVA’s statutes by providing “independent and pluralistic information”.

According to the recent “Media Pluralism Monitor” report on Hungary, the independence and funding of MTVA is at high risk: “In practice, since the public service media system was restructured in 2010, the public media content has been marked by a demonstrable pro-Government bias. (…) The 2010 media legislation brought extensive restructuring to Hungary’s public service media. Each of Hungary’s public service media outlets — three national TV, three radio stations and one national news service — are now supervised by a single body, the Media Services and Support Trust Fund (Médiaszolgáltatás-támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap, MTVA), managed by the country’s media regulator, the Media Council, a body composed of all five members who were appointed and elected by the governing majority. The chairperson of the Media Council appoints, sets the salary for and exercises full employer’s rights over the MTVA’ s director general, deputy directors, as well as the chairperson and all four members of its Supervisory Board.”

Picture credit: Peter Kohalmi / AFP.