What is the problem with the media laws?

Systemic politicization of the media system: The most dangerous trend seen in the Hungarian media over the last few years has been the increase in media service providers openly affiliated with political parties. This politicization at an organizational level presents special risks because it extends to entertainment media directed at mass audiences. On the one hand, this leads to a danger of corruption, particularly in connection with a lack of transparency in the use of revenue from state advertising. On the other hand, media empires that are politically connected become stronger financially as commercial revenues are re-directed towards openly politicized media outlets. A third issue is the potential for political manipulation. Even the Media Authority found that the news programming of Class FM, a commercial music radio station, was heavily biased in favor of the current government.

Manipulation of the advertising market: The lack of predictability and transparency of the media financing system increases the risk of government influence and also reduces the likelihood that information will be provided in a manner independent of political and economic interests. Recently, government advertising, or the allocation of advertising spending of state-owned enterprises, has become an important source of political influence on the media. This has led to especially distorted relations on the radio advertising markets, where the performance and audience of stations is now completely separated from their ad revenues. All of this has, to a great extent, led to the creation of a politically-backed monopoly (Advenio Zrt. – Class FM) on the national commercial radio market. In addition, government spending on advertising sends out a message to commercial advertisers, who tend to follow the government’s preferred media for advertising. This leads to a distortion of the advertising market and increases the vulnerability of certain media service providers.

Low level of commitment of publicly-funded media: A significant obstacle to social dialogue in Hungary is its political culture which is incapable of dialogue, as well as audiences’ complete lack of interest in public affairs. The situation is aggravated – and at times directly supported – by the political affiliations of editorial boards and journalists. The achievements of journalists who are able to overcome these obstacles only appear in media that reach a very small proportion of audiences, while commercial media outlets that do not wish to identify with this prefer instead to be completely apolitical. Because the journalistic profession’s commitment to serving the public is very low, there is also little solidarity within the profession or shared professional norms. The new legislation has created a system which can dictate minimal norms for the profession, lacks transparency, and that can be easily controlled by political parties. The publicly-funded media can no longer be considered a reliable source of information.

Highly politicized and unpredictable supervisory mechanisms: The distorted processes seen over the last few years could never have run their course without the legislative background provided by the Media Law and the Media Authority. Current legislation, with provisions open to arbitrary interpretation and that give the Authority the option to impose severe monetary sanctions, continues to maintain journalists and editors in a state of incertitude. Meanwhile, the Media Authority continues to be politically one-sided, lacks transparency in many respects, and has a scope of powers unmatched by any similar organization in Europe. The role played by these processes can especially be seen in the allocation of frequencies, which was an important means for the creation of politically-affiliated media enterprises. It can also be seen that certain media and enterprises are favored in the allocation of subsidies. Meanwhile, in its media supervisory role, the Authority has not developed a practice that would contribute to dissipating the uncertainty arising from the media legislation.

Criminal proceedings and freedom of the media: The low level of political culture is shown in the inability of political figures to tolerate any criticism. It is increasingly common for persons exercising state power or holding public office to take civil or criminal legal action against their more vocal critics. The very fact that it is possible to press criminal charges in these cases (whether this should be permitted is, in itself, questionable) and the application of such measures lead to self-censorship, as well as a cooling effect on investigative journalism and freedom of expression.