BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Central and Eastern Europe’s first online Christian news agency, BosNewsLife, was ordered Wednesday, February 9, to register with Hungarian authorities under a new controversial law that critics say is part of a crackdown on independent media.
Hungary’s media watchdog, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), said Budapest-based BosNewsLife had till June 30 to register. “As the website is already working, it will have to meet the conditions,” of relevant paragraphs of the new media legislation, wrote NMHH’s Ditta Boncz, who heads the authority’s tenders and legal department. Boncz made the announcement in an e-mail exchange with BosNewsLife.
It was not immediately clear what sanctions would follow in case BosNewsLife refuses to register with the NMHH, whose key members were appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.
Under the new law electronic media such as BosNewsLife could face fines of over $100,000 and broadcasters nearly $1 million if their news coverage is deemed unbalanced, immoral or violating human dignity.
BosNewsLife founder Stefan J. Bos, a Dutch journalist, said he was concerned about this development “as even English language media and foreign journalists working in Hungary will now be subject to government control.”
He said the agency ran “balanced but critical stories” about the media legislation and other government policies. “as well as am opinionated-column on Prime Minister Orban turning Hungary into Orbanistan” a reference to autocratic Central Asian nations. “I am wondering if that will increase the government pressure on BosNewsLife to register. It also reminds me to the Communist days when media, and churches, had to register.”
Wednesday’s registration order to BosNewsLife comes amid tensions between Hungary and the European Union over the media law. The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, has expressed concerns that that the legislation may not be in line with European standards.
“The commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law,” said Commissioner Neelie Kroes last month in a leaked letter. Parts of the law could violate basic EU rights guaranteeing the freedom of expression and information, she said.
Kroes wrote that the Commission is especially concerned about the “wide imposition” to media to provide balanced coverage and the registration requirement for all media, including print and online outlets.
She said the requirements “can be considered as an unjustified obstacle” for media providers that want to work from Hungary or provide their services for Hungary from another EU nation.
The legislation, which was introduced January 1, has been criticized by governments and newspapers across Europe, clouding Hungary’s six- month tenure of holding the EU presidency. Additionally, thousands of Hungarians demonstrated last month against the legislation in Budapest and other cities while on Wednesday, February 9, news emerged that Dutch and other international agricultural journalists have also protested.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned that if the EU does not pressure Hungary to change the law, “it will be very difficult to talk to China or Iran about human rights.”
Hungary has agreed to provide the Commission with proposals to change the law by Thursday, although Prime Minister Orban defended the legislation in an earlier interview. “Now we should have a more professional, legal discussion on the text. The text is very European,” he said.
“There is no special regulation, no special Hungarian legislation in this law. All paragraphs and elements of this [legislation] are imported from EU Countries. So I think it is a European regulation,” he said last month.
Bos said BosNewsLife would closely monitor the situation. “We are based in Budapest, Hungary, from where we thought we could independently cover international news stories on Christian persecution and other developments for both a Hungarian and worldwide audience. We hope Hungary will not turn back the clock more than 20 years when Hungary was a Communist-run Soviet satellite state.”