Thursday, December 30, 2010

The next Presidency is coming

End of December means many things to many people but to the EU it means only one thing: a new incumbent in the Presidential seat. As of Saturday it will be Hungary's turn to make pronouncements, promise actions and, in six months' time, fade away without achieving any of those promises.

Curiously enough the Hungarian government is not promising to simplify legislation and get rid of red tape, the never-ending mantra of previous incoming Presidencies. No, indeed. As befits a country with enormous economic problems (more here) Hungary is promising fiscal discipline to be the leitmotif of its Presidency. Well, that's nice to know.

Meanwhile, there are a few other problems. There is, for example, the media law:
Under the legislation, passed by Hungary's parliament Tuesday, a new authority will have the right to regulate all media content and impose fines of up to €730,000 ($950,000) or shut down news outlets that flout rules.
Apparently, the critics have not seen the small print of the new law. In order to facilitate this an English translation is on the way.

According to Statewatch, who, possibly, have not read the small print:
The European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), expressed concern at a draft law that would impose extensive fines against journalists and publishers if they refuse to disclose their sources or publish information deemed inappropriate by the government.

The proposed law, if passed, would seriously endanger freedom of the press by creating room for a subjective judgment about any individual news story and penalise publishers and editors through government-controlled regulatory bodies. The proposal could dramatically limit objective news media.
Let's not get too excited about the concept of objective news media, one that is hard to find at any time but it is certainly true that governments should not be in a position to decide what is and what is not inappropriate for the media to publish.

It seems that Hungarian Radio is already acting according to the new legislation in silencing criticism of it. Amusingly enough the Daily Telegraph wrote about a week ago that Hungary would be unworthy of the EU Presidency if it passed the new media law and might even face suspension from the EU. It never ceases to amaze me that journalists can come up with bilge like that.

Altogether the political situation in Hungary is as messy as the economic one. Let us not forget that the previous incumbent of the EU Presidency was Belgium, a country that cannot even agree on its own government. Hungary is, therefore, eminently suitable for the glorious position of the rotating EU Presidency. Or as they sing on the other side of the Pond: Hail to the Chief! Of course, they actually elect their Presidents.

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