From: Alice Taylor
Media Organisations Call on European Commission to Take Action on Hungary’s Worsening Press Freedom Climate

Viktor Orban’s government has been accused of violating EU state aid rules to undermine media pluralism in Hungary by 16 press freedom organisations.

The coalition including Reporters Without Borders, the Association of European Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and the European Federation of Journalists, urged the European Commission to act on the complaints.

They stated that over the  last 10 years, Orban has “systematically dismantled media pluralism, media freedom, and media independence.” Through manipulation, bending rules and weaponizing state resources they have punished critical media. This has led to a situation where government mouthpieces are rewarded with funding and lucrative state advertising deals and independent media is stifled.

Then, in November 2018 a complaint was lodged with the EC regarding the distribution of state advertising in Hungary. The complaint included “extensive evidence” of the way the government was distorting the market. The coalition noted they were “dismayed” that the Commission has still not responded to the complaint.

Since then, they said, the situation has got even more serious. In late 2018, KESMA was founded which united pro-government media and created exemption from normal competition review. This further undermined media pluralism and “facilitated a centralized system of content control”. It was then found that 80% of the market was financed by sources determined by the ruling party. 

In other words, the government controls over 470 media outlets in the country.

They noted that the EC has also failed to respond to another state aid complaint dating from 2016. This related to the Hungarian public service broadcaster and the anti-competitive way in which it is funded.

“We are seriously concerned that the Commission’s failure thus far to respond to these complaints perpetuates the Hungarian government’s market-distorting practices and allows for the further decimation of independent media in the country.”

They noted now this model of suppression and control was being exported to other countries including EU candidate countries. They urged the EC to take action to defend the right of Hungarians to access free and pluralistic sources of news.

“Addressing these issues is essential to defending media freedom, media pluralism and the rule of law both in Hungary and within the EU as a whole.”