Still Many Black Holes in the Media Law - The Constitutional Court’s intervention is welcomed, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) welcomes the December 19th decisions of the Constitutional Court, which – partly due to the HCLU’S motion – found parts of the new media law to be unconstitutional. At the same time, the HCLU regrets that the Constitutional Court did not carry out a full review on the media law, which would have been necessary in order to reinstall freedom of the press in Hungary.

'With this decision the Constitutional Court unequivocally expressed that the government’s policy on the media and the press needs serious correction. At the same time, it has to be mentioned that the intervention is just the tip of the iceberg and it only provides remedy for a few points of the government’s Putin-style media policies. It’s similar to a house fire, after which the gate is fixed, the mail box is put back, but the house is still dominated by debris and destruction. The correction of Hungarian democracy cannot be whole until both the letter and spirit of this media law surround us’ – said Szabolcs Hegyi, Head of the HCLU’s Political Freedoms Program.
The Constitutional Court ruled the media law to be unconstitutional in four significant areas:
1. The Court excludes print media from the scope of the media law, effective on May 31st.
2. Effective immediately, rules that set the structure of the lack of real source-protection are annulled, taking into account the European Court of Human Rights’ precedents. Now, instead of the journalists, authorities will have to prove public interest.
3. Effective immediately, the CC also terminated the National Media and Infocommunications Authority’s license to obligate editors to provide data without pending proceedings and in order to initiate future proceedings.
4. The so-called ’Media Commissioner’ is liquidated, effective May 31st, 2012.
The HCLU would like to stress that the Constitutional Court did not deem a number of elements which seriously restrict freedom of the press to be unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court did not examine paragraphs containing uncertain propositions which make it possible to enforce extensive restrictions on media content (dignity, interests of minorities and majorities) and to initiate procedures not only against print but electronic and audio-visual media as well. The Court also did not examine the exceedingly high fines to be imposed on media providers in the case of violating any media rule and did not examine the chilling effects of the administrative procedures which can be driven by the Authority.
In conclusion to all of the above, the HCLU claims that even after the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the state of freedom of the press in Hungary is still worrisome. It would be especially dangerous to interpret the Constitutional Court’s recent decision as conferring legitimacy of the by-passed paragraphs. The decision corrodes the basis of the media law, but halts after the beginning of the criticism and full judicial deliberation. The HCLU will continue to exploit all legal channels in contesting the media law.

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