Brussels, 16 February 2011
Media: Commission Vice-President Kroes welcomes amendments to Hungarian Media Law
Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, has welcomed the amendments the Hungarian authorities have agreed to introduce to their Media Constitution and Media Act (Hungarian Media Law). These amendments concern all four issues where Vice-President Kroes had expressed serious doubts that the current law, adopted on 21st December 2010, was not compliant with EU law. These four issues comprise disproportionate application of rules on balanced information, application of fines to broadcasters legally established and authorised in other Member States, rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers and rules against offending individuals, minorities or majorities. The EU law in question comprises the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, the rules laid down in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services (Articles 49 and 56 respectively) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 11 on freedom of expression). The Commission will now closely monitor the adoption of these amendments and their subsequent implementation.
"I am very pleased that the Hungarian authorities have agreed to amend their Media Law to ensure that it complies with the aspects of EU law that we have raised, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights", said Neelie Kroes. "We will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the Hungarian authorities to ensure that the agreed changes are now incorporated into Hungarian law and that the revised law is consistently applied in practice".
The four areas where the Hungarian authorities have agreed to amend the Media Law are:
The current law's provisions on the need to ensure balanced information extend from the area of broadcasting, where such rules are quite common, to other media services, including for example a simple text or video blogger. The Commission considers that the lack of limiting criteria constitutes a disproportionate burden amounting not only to a breach of the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive but also, as regards a wide range of media, to a breach of the Treaty rules on establishment and provision of services and of Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights concerning the fundamental freedom of expression and information.
The amendments agreed would limit the balanced coverage requirements to broadcasting (as in other Member States) and would no longer apply these requirements to on-demand media services. This would mean that on-demand media services established in Hungary and other Member States would no longer face such a disproportionate obligation.
Moreover, the obligation imposed on broadcasters would need to respect the principle of proportionality. The Commission will monitor the implementing rules translating this principle into Hungary's national law.
Country of origin
Certain provisions of the current Media Law apply also to media firms established in other Member States, including a possibility of fines for non-compliance even if broadcasting from other Member States, which could breach the "country of origin" principle. The AVMS Directive establishes a Single Market for broadcasters, including providers of online audiovisual content, based on this "country of origin" principle. According to this principle, audiovisual media service providers are subject to the regulations in their country of origin only. Service providers cannot be subject to regulation in the destination country except in very limited circumstances laid down by Article 3 of the AVMS Directive (e.g. incitement to hatred). The power to impose fines on non-resident audiovisual media providers, as foreseen by the current Media Law, risks being disproportionate, in particular as it could target media operators established in other Member States that would be in compliance with their own national rules.
The amendments agreed would mean that broadcasters and other audiovisual media service providers legally established and authorised in other Member States could no longer be fined for breaching the Hungarian Media Law's provisions on incitement to hatred.
The current Media Law includes rules on media authorisation and registration. The provisions of the law applying to on-demand media services, press products and ancillary media services could imply that they are required to register before they are allowed to provide services in Hungary and are thus subject to an authorisation scheme. These provisions could create an unjustified restriction of the Treaty rules on freedom of establishment.
The amendments agreed clarify that on-demand audiovisual media service providers, media product publishers and ancillary media service providers would have to register only after they began offering their services (within 60 days), which is in line with the AVMS Directive. This means that on-demand audiovisual media service providers, media product publishers and ancillary media service providers established in Hungary and in other Member States would no longer be subject to prior authorisation by the Hungarian authorities.
The current Media Law includes very broadly applicable provisions that media content may not "cause offence", even by implication, to individuals, minorities or majorities. These provision apply to all media content providers, including those established in other EU countries. Such provisions, which as regards audiovisual media services relate to the AVMS Directive, were considered to be disproportionate and could give rise to a breach of Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights as any published content or broadcast that displeased certain persons or groups could be at risk of prohibition and/or fines.
The amendments agreed, which would apply to all media content providers, clarify the scope of these provisions, limiting the prohibition to situations of incitement to hatred or discrimination.
The Hungarian Media Law was adopted on 21st December. Vice-President Kroes wrote to the Hungarian authorities on 23rd December expressing her concerns and asking for details. Following notification of the law, Vice-President Kroes wrote to the Hungarian authorities again on 21st January expressing her specific concerns about the compliance of the media law with EU law.
This was followed by meetings in Brussels at experts level between Commission and the Hungarian authorities on 7th February and 15th February, where the Commission discussed its concerns about the media law.
Neelie Kroes' website:
Digital Agenda website: