Lawmakers in Hungary have given a controversial new body powers to oversee public news production and levy high fines on private media that break rules on political reporting.
The Hungarian parliament passed the law establishing the National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) on Monday evening, according to the Hungarian national news agency MTI.
Some 1,500 protesters gathered outside the parliament in the hours before the vote, claiming that it would restrict press freedom, after an appeal was made on the social network site Facebook.
The BBC writes
Unbalanced coverage or breaches of the rules on coverage of sex, violence or alcohol are now expected to prompt the imposition of sanctions by the new authority.
The NMHH will be able to impose fines of up to 200m forints (£615,000; $955,000) on TV and radio stations, MTI reported.
Newspapers could face fines of up to 25m forints and news websites 10m forints.
A media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Dunja Mijatovic, said the law "could lead to all broadcasting being subordinated to political decisions".
Freedom House also warned that it would be "a major setback for press freedom in Hungary". The definition of "violations" is "very broad", it added.
The NMHH is dominated by Fidesz appointees, Reuters news agency reports.
The government argues that the new law is long overdue, saying Hungary's legislation needs to catch up with rapid developments in media technology and content.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it [the new Hungarian law] severely restricted print and online media, which runs counter to OSCE standards.
"Regulating print media can curb media freedom and free public debate, which are indispensable elements of democracies," OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic wrote in a report.
"Regulating online media is not only technologically impossible but it exerts a chilling, self-censoring effect on free expression."
From the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe.
Strasbourg, 23.12.2010 – “In a democracy, media must not be treated as enemies of the state. The Media and Communications Authority to be established in Hungary on 1 January is an alarming sign that Hungary wishes to police the media,” said Markku Laukkanen (Finland, ALDE), the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
“Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects freedom of expression, information and opinion throughout Europe. We see an overly broad Hungarian legislation, which enables state authorities to impose severe sanctions on media for having raised political criticism. This will cause a severe chilling effect on media freedom and would therefore in principle violate Article 10,” Mr Laukkanen said.“The PACE Sub-Committee on the Media will discuss the state of media freedom in Europe in January 2011. I do hope that the Hungarian government will have clearly set by then the limits on this new Media and Communications Authority, which must not function like the censorship bodies sadly known in Hungary under communist and fascist rule. Media censorship has no place in the democratic Europe of today.”
There is also a video press conference on this bill at the European Commission.
I try to keep loaded words out of my posts. The basis for saying 'chilling effect' in the title is a message I got from a Hungarian blogger I've been reading for several years who has shut down his blog because of fear he might run afoul of the law. That, by definition, is what chilling effect means. And that's what caused me to look into this more.