MEPs in the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group were examining an offer by the Hungarian government to revise its controversial media law as European Voice went to press last night.
The S&D group, together with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL) and the Greens, had been planning to pass a resolution calling on the Hungarian government to suspend its media law. The groups wanted the European Commission to complete its investigation into whether the law was in line with EU legislation.
But plans to approve the resolution today (17 February) were thrown into confusion after the Commission announced yesterday (16 February) that the Hungarian government had agreed to change the law to address its concerns.
Claude Moraes, a UK centre-left MEP, said that, while his group welcomed the willingness of the Hungarian authorities to amend the law, the Parliament has “still not been able to see the text of the negotiations between the Commission and Hungarian authorities; therefore we require more time to fully state our position on the matter”.
Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for the digital agenda, welcomed the proposed changes, saying: “I am very pleased that the Hungarian authorities have agreed to amend their media law to ensure it complies with the aspects of EU law that we have raised, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”
The Hungarian government has agreed to change the law’s requirement for ‘balanced reporting’ so that it no longer applies to bloggers. The Commission had said this breached Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights on freedom of expression.
The law will also be revised so that media companies outside Hungary cannot be fined for failing to comply with the law. Companies providing media services in Hungary will no longer need to register with the media regulator before starting to operate. The Commission considered this an unjustified restriction of the freedom to provide services.
The Commission also said that the part of the law stipulating that media content should not “cause offence” to individuals or groups was “disproportionate” and infringed freedom of expression rules. This will be changed so that the ban applies only to cases of incitement to hatred or discrimination.
Kroes said the Commission would continue to monitor the situation to ensure the changes were incorporated into Hungarian law and that the revised law was applied.
The draft resolution also calls on the Commission to draft EU rules on media freedoms, pluralism and “independent governance” of the media sector before the end of the year, in order to bolster existing regulations in the audiovisual, competition and internal market policy areas.
They claim that media pluralism and freedom are also under threat in other member states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Romania.
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