Naturally its passage was never in question. Yet Fidesz demanded that all members of parliament vote by name. I assume this was necessary to make sure that no one, but no one from the Fidesz and Christian Democratic caucuses dares push the "wrong button" by mistake. A fear that not all 256 members of the Fidesz and KDNP caucuses present would vote for this draconian law and there wouldn't be a perfectly unanimous decision.
This procedure takes a long time and it often happens nowadays that parliament votes on very important pieces of legislation in the wee small hours of the morning. MTI could report on the passage of the media law only at 5 o'clock in the morning. There were some protests during voting. Parliamentary members of LMP stuck orange-colored tape on their mouths while two of their members displayed a sign: "Hungarian freedom of the press–it lived twenty-one years." Tibor Szanyi (MSZP) held up a muzzle when it came to the vote.
The bill is 180 pages long and therefore I can mention only a few of the most important provisions here. First and foremost, the new Media Council, comprised entirely of Fidesz members or sympathizers, can fine all media (television, radio, internet) for inciting hatred against persons, nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities or even majorities. In case you find the mention of this last group a bit odd, you're right, but from a nationalistic governing party its inclusion is not surprising. How often one could hear in the past, even from the mouth of Viktor Orbán himself, that the left "always turned against the nation." Or that, again a famous Orbán quotation, the "nation cannot be in opposition." Thus, if you criticize the government it will be easy in the future to interpret this criticism as an incitement against the majority. In addition, it will be enough to offend the sensitivity of any group. Well, I guess it all depends on how sensitive one is toward criticism.
Then come the details on the fines for "the transgressions." For media outlets with "significant influence" the fine can be 200 million forints or about 1 million dollars. I assume in this category one would find the two largest television stations: RTL Club and TV2. Others are luckier. They will have to pay only up to 50 million forints if the Media Council finds them guilty. Nationwide dailies, including internet newspapers, can be fined up to 25 million forints while weeklies and other periodicals can get away with 10 million. In addition, the editors of the offending media can be personally fined 2 million forints. All organs, including internet newspapers, must be registered with the authorities.
Originally the bill read that these fines will have to be paid immediately, prior to any appeal in the justice system. However, István Pálffy (KDNP), a former anchor at MTV, and László L. Simon (Fidesz), allegedly a writer turned politician, felt that perhaps this was too much to swallow, not so much at home but abroad. A revision to the bill lightened the severity of the law at this point. The fined media can ask for a suspension of the fine from the courts until a final decision is reached. However, the courts cannot decide on how "just" or "unjust" the "punishment" was, only on the appropriateness of the size of the fine. They can contemplate such weighty questions as whether this is a television station with "substantial influence" and thus whether the size of the fine is appropriate.
The authorities can also suspend the right to broadcast. The suspension might last only a few minutes but it could be as long as a whole week. In extreme cases the authorities even have the right to shut the organ down permanently.
As for content. The owner of a television channel or a radio station with a large audience (35% of the listeners) will be barred from acquiring another television or radio station, which is a reasonable provision. The programming of these stations is strictly circumscribed. Half of the programs of the television station must come from Europe, and Hungarian content must make up one third of its programming. In the case of public broadcasting (Magyar Televízió and Duna TV) the programming requirements are even stricter: 60% European and 50% Hungarian content is prescribed. As for radio stations, 35% of the music they broadcast must be Hungarian and 25% of this must have been recorded in the last five years. (It will be quite a feat to pick the right pieces and calculate the percentages!) It is somewhat reassuring that the stations, radio and television, will have the opportunity to discuss the details of the change with the Media Council and they will have three years to ease into the new requirements.
Now we come to news. Television stations "with significant influence" must spend at least fifteen minutes on news between 7 and 8:30 a.m. and at least 20 minutes between 6 and 9 p.m. Radio stations with a large audience will have to spend at least 15 minutes on the news between 6:30 and 9:30 a.m. In the evening between 6 and 9 p.m. there must be news lasting at least 20 minutes. Reporting on crime that "doesn't serve the interest of the democratic public" must be restricted to 20% of the time devoted to news.
There is one provision I actually welcome: television stations must show at least 25% of foreign films broadcast between 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. in the original language with Hungarian subtitles. Actually, if it depended on me, I would demand all of them to be shown in the original language. A lot of people claim that Hungarians' knowledge of foreign languages might have been made easier with undubbed films on TV.
There are many provisions concerning the protection of children. For example, programs that shouldn't be watched by children under the age of 16 will have to be shown after 9:00 p.m. Moreover, programs which are not suitable for those under 18 years of age can be shown only after ten. That in 2011 when many eighteen-year-olds have been sexually active for years. Or when teenagers surf the internet for juicy stories.
Put it this way, members of the Hungarian media are prepared for the worst. Although the supporters of the bill keep repeating that one ought not assume that the members of the Media Council are not well meaning people and let's wait until the new rules and regulations are actually enforced, critics of the bill are still worried. As József Debreczeni said today on ATV's Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk), the difference between dictatorship and democracy is that in the former we are dependent on the goodwill of the authorities whereas in a democracy the law stipulates what the authorities can and can't do. Right now the members of the media can only hope that the Media Council will be reasonable. But I wouldn't be too optimistic. What has happened in the last six months doesn't give rise to much hope.