Orator '89: Viktor Orbán commemorating Hungary's National Day on March 15
Hungary has always felt a little forgotten in the European mind, but its recent prominence in the world's media is something it could have done without. Probably no one would even be aware of Hungary holding the EU presidency, but for the hysteria that has erupted around its media law which also came into force in January, as Hungary assumed the presidency.
I'm not going to defend the media law but I am going to reflect on the hypocrisy, double standards and ignorance of those who have so shrilly attacked it and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Outside Hungary, attacks on the media law in the EU have come principally from the Left, but they have gained bandwagon momentum in political circles and the press, and even the illegal download website The Pirate Bay, based in Sweden, shut down its services for 24 hours to protest against the law.
For one democracy to interfere in the internal affairs of another requires a great deal of justification. The media law may indeed be badly thought-out or poorly drafted, but poorly drafted and badly thought-out legislation passes through democratic legislative bodies every day.
I haven't read the full text of the law (it's far too long), but then neither have its critics. Most of the condemnations came long before the law was translated into English, so critics like Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and the New York Times who incorrectly claimed that Angela Merkel had "spoken out strongly" against the law are lining up with the Ayatollah Khomeini in attacking something they haven't read (unless they've been taking evening classes in Hungarian).
If someone in Hungary who didn't speak English, who'd never been to Britain, who had made no study of its culture or history were to start fulminating about the state control of the media in the UK (the sinister Ofcom scouring television channels for "offensive" material at the state's behest), we'd laugh or feel sorrow at such patent lunacy. Yet that's precisely the sort of absurd and uninformed criticism that Orbán and his party Fidesz have faced.
Every country has regulation of the media and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, contained in Hungary's media law that isn't found in other EU countries or the US. Lord Annan's sparkling line that the authorities should "censure but not censor" is the ideal a democracy should work towards, but how do you achieve that? Even in Britain with a long tradition of unfettered news and opinion, we still have arguments about exactly where lines should be drawn (and who should be drawing them).
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