The adoption of the new media laws in 2010 not only laid the foundation for the complete overhaul of the Hungarian media system but at once represented one of the current administration’s first measures to scale back constitutional democracy. Fitting in comfortably with the broader arsenal of media policy, the new regulation provides a clear-cut picture of the way the government conceives of democracy. First and foremost, the new regulation is aimed at a structural revamping of the media system in such a way as to cement for the long haul the dominance of the current ruling parties in the public domain, at the very least on the channels of telecommunication that reach the most people in the country. Enterprises and editorial boards forced into compromise; single-party supervisory agencies; media businesses with close ties to the parties in power gaining ground – these are some of the main consequences of the media policy enabled by the new regulatory framework.
At the same time, the adoption of the new media laws has directed the attention of Europe and the world at large to the ongoing marginalization of constitutional democracy in Hungary. From the OSCE to the UN and the European Council, virtually all organizations concerned with fundamental rights have voiced severe criticism over the regulation, and their objections have been seconded by journalist forums and other NGOs. The present study does not undertake to provide a synopsis of the criticisms articulated to date. The most comprehensive among them is certainly the expert opinion of the European Council, which essentially recommends a revision of the media laws across the board. Instead of such a summary, then, our aim here is to describe certain idiosyncratic, even eccentric solutions, now aided by the benefit of experience with the application of the new provisions.
Following an analysis of the constitutional underpinnings of the media regulation, we will provide a brief introduction to the specific features of the Hungarian media system, which exert a profound influence of the operation of the new provisions. In our account, we focus on the two most prominent risks that follow from the language of the law, namely the chilling effect of excessive content restrictions and the structural revisions threatening the pluralism of media in Hungary.