Hungary's ruling Fidesz part faced widespead criticism in 2011 over dramatic changes to the way media organisations are regulated

Credit: Zselosz in Flickr. Some rights reserved

Tens of thousands gathered yesterday in the Hungarian capital Budapest, according to reports, to protest against changes to the country's constitution which have been widely criticised as an attack on democracy.

The changes took effect on 1 January and follow a large number of new laws drafted by the ruling Fidesz party over the past year, including changes to media regulation which international organisations have warned are a danger to press freedom.

In a letter to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban sent on 23 December, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed concern over changes to media regulation in the country, specifically over the recent withdrawal of the licence of a radio station known to be critical of the government.

Klubradio announced in December that it would be forced to close by 31 March 2012 after the government's Media Council, whose members were all nominated by the Fidesz party and whose cross-platform authority and system of "co-regulation" has been criticised, had awarded its frequency to another relatively unknown radio station, Autoradio.

According to Hungarian media network, Media Council spokesperson Karola Kirisci said the station had not scored highly enough in certain criteria, although she reportedly refused to explain the criteria involved at a press conference.

Dunja Mijatovic, press freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), told it was "regrettable that an independent and popular political talk radio station is to be terminated".

"The radio station known for its critical political views had half a million listeners daily. As an important source of independent information it contributed to the diversity of the media."

Five journalists in Budapest, including two employees of state television broadcaster MTV, have been on hunger strike over media regulation since 10 December, according to the BBC. The two MTV employees, who were reportedly fired by the broadcaster in December, are camping with three others outside the MTV building and demanding that five editors who they accuse of political interference are sacked.

The Hungarian government faced widespread criticism over its media policy in 2011 from the European Parliament, the UN human rights council, the OSCE, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and a host of international press freedom groups.

A recent mission of press freedom organisations to the country warned that its media laws are having a "chilling effect" on press freedom and threatened to do so in neighbouring countries if Hungary were to be successful in exporting the model.

Their report also claimed that the laws – which allow Hungarian courts to force journalists to reveal sources – is not consistent with EU standards in its provision for source protection and media plurality.

Hungary was forced to amend an initial draft of the legislation after it was rejected by the European Parliament for not meeting the the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 11 on freedom of expression).

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