Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The week saw the alarming news that Hungary has been warned that it could be the first country in the EU to have its democracy placed under international scrutiny.

An influential committee of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog (not part of the EU), proposed that Hungary be subject to a “monitoring procedure” that would place the country’s democratic rights and liberties under international monitoring, something that has never happened in any of the EU’s 27 countries.

The final decision to push ahead with the scrutiny needs to be taken by the council’s parliamentary assembly which brings together lawmakers from the organisation’s 47 member states. Ten countries outside the EU but members of the council, including Russia and Turkey, are being monitored.

The “opinion” delivered by the council’s monitoring committee accused Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán of seeking to take control of independent institutions in Hungary, of using the constitutional rewriting to cement the power of his own political party, Fidesz, and of ignoring the country’s supreme court.

Budapest and Brussels have been at odds for months over curbs on freedom in Hungary, including restrictions on media expression, pressure on judges and control of the central bank. Orbán has consistently and robustly rejected the charges, with his government and diplomats mounting a loud and detailed campaign aimed at disproving the criticism,

A little closer to home, Nigel Farage was criticised this week for his reaction to the news that a UKIP candidate owns a strip club.

In an interview on Wednesday with BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show, Farage, said it was nonsense that he had frequented and enjoyed lap-dancing clubs in the past but admitted going to one once unintentionally.

“I was taken once unwittingly and I did say that I wasn’t appalled by it,” he said. “I did quite like it. What you want me to say? I hated it?”

Asked whether his comment confirmed some assertions recently that he is anti women, he attempted to laugh it off. “That’s really rather silly,” he said. “I have to tell you, if I’d been anti-women, then the whole of my adult life would have been just that much simpler.”

These statements have been called in to question though, as Farage, in a 2009 interview with the Guardian said he had been to “lap-dancing clubs”, boasting that other leaders would not admit to it because “they’re living in this PC world and nobody must admit to being human”.

 

Hungarian Government Conciliatory Over Media Laws

Labour Party

The Hungarian government has responded to Information Commissioner Neelie Kroes’s concerns over their controversial new media laws.  In a letter from the deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Tibor Navracsics, they have set out their justification for various aspect of the law.

Having read the letter it appears to be a case of laws having the potential for being abused (the ability to levy fines for ‘imbalanced media coverage’), but perhaps sounding a lot worse than they are.  The impression I’ve got is that perhaps this wasn’t the best thought-out piece of legislation.  This often happens when governments have very large majorities, as the Fidesz Party does at the moment. 

I think that it’s a good thing that the Commission has stepped in and scrutinised this legislation and the Hungarians are now prepared to revise anything that coud conflict with Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMS) or indeed the European Convention on Human Rights.  The letter, though interesting, is rather long, but if you feel like reading it then please do click on the read more option.

The Socialist and Democrat Group is ahead of the Pack on Control of the Media

Labour Party

First we had Silvio Berlusconi and now there’s Viktor Orban and the right-wing Fidesz government in Hungary. Control of the media, who owns it, who works for it and who distributes it – media pluralism in the jargon – is a subject which bubbles away under the surface much of the time in Brussels. However, the Hungarian new media legislation has put the issue very much on the current agenda.

This would perhaps not be such a big story if it wasn’t for the fact that the Hungarian government have just assumed the presidency of the Council of Ministers and are in the process of telling us their priorities for the  next six months.  Many of these seem to me to be very constructive and forward thinking, but unfortunately, they are being obscured by the furore surrounding these highly questionable new media laws.

Today though, the Socialists and Democrats had the pleasure of hearing what the European Commission have been doing to help tackle the issue of media pluralism.  In 2007 the Commission came up with a three stage plan for media pluralism.  The first stage was a working paper that looked at what efforts were being made already to promote media pluralism.  Then they commissioned an independent study to establish the parameters for judging whether a media is diverse and diffuse enough.   The final stage is to be a Commission Communication addressing the issue, but since stage two has only just been completed, this is still to come.

In the meeting we first heard from Mr. Adam Watson-Brown, who is the Head of Unit from the Commission’s task force on media pluralism.  He pointed out that ownership of media providers was only one indication of the plurality of a countries media and not always the most conclusive element since you had to take in to account media licensing and public service broadcasters.  Mr. Watson-Brown also pointed out that new technology was adding further difficulty to the discussion of media pluralism as large and established content providers could expand much faster in to new areas and begin to dominate nascent markets.  This isn’t necessarily sinister, we just need a period of adjustment.

The second speaker was Dr. Peggy Valcke from the Catholic University in Leuven, who was the project leader for the Commissions report on media pluralism.  She spoke extensively about the exhaustive methods used to establish a set of criteria for judging the media plurality of a country.  It was very interesting indeed and far too complex to go into here, but if you fancy an interesting and very technical explanation, you can read the report in full here.

So we wait now for the Communication from the Commission.  Media pluralism is one of the most important aspects of modern democracy.  We need a diverse media providing contrasting views to ensure that citizens can access all the information and form their own opinions.  I hope the Commission can provide some constructive solutions for this difficult problem.