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The European parliament has postponed a vote on Hungary's controversial new media law after the country agreed to bring the legislation in line with EU rules.

According to a release from the parliament, the vote, which was scheduled for yesterday afternoon, was delayed after MEPs requested more time to assess Hungary's last-minute amendments to the law.

The law, which came into effect on 1 January, the same day that Hungary began its six-month presidency of the European Union, requires all media to register with government authorities and gives the country's state-owned media body, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), the power to fine broadcasters and newspapers for violating "public interest, public morals or order".

The law also makes the NMHH responsible for deciding if printed or broadcast content is "balanced". Communications minister Zoltan Kovacs was forced to assure that the government would look at the wording of the legislation after thousands took to the streets in January to protest against the potential infringement on press freedom.

The European Parliament debated the legislation in January, with several MEPs voicing concerns about the "balanced communication" requirement. Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes promised to follow up on the issue, claiming that she had "got the guarantee from the Hungarian government that they are listening and they will act".

The parliament took issue with four areas of Hungary's law under the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 11 on freedom of expression):

  • The disproportionate application of rules regarding balanced information;
  • The application of fines to broadcasters legally established and authorised in other EU countries;
  • Rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers;
  • Rules against offending individuals, minorities or majorities.
According to an announcement by European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd, the government has agreed that the rules on balanced reporting will now only apply to broadcast media, as in other member states, and not to "on-demand" media services. Media outlets will also only be obliged to register after beginning to offer services, within a 60-day period.

The law's restrictions on incitement to hatred will also no longer apply to media outlets established other EU countries, and the government has committed to clarifing the use of the term "offences to minority or majority groups", for which fines are imposable under the current law, applying it only in cases of discrimination or incitement to hatred.

Representatives from the European People's Party (EPP) reportedly welcomed the move in a plenary session on Wednesday, urging parliament to cancel the planned vote on its resolution, but MEPs from the S&D, GUE/NGL, ALDE and Greens/EFA parties claimed that the amendments may not suffice to ensure media freedom in Hungary.

Image by quinn.anya on Flickr Some rights reserved.

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