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Rumors about new media chamber membership rules

February 12th, 2018

Left-wing, liberal and conservative critics of the government suggest that the government wants to silence independent and critical media by establishing a new media chamber with specific rules.

Népszava reported that right-wing journalist organizations are planning to table new chamber membership rules. The aim of the new legislation would be to protect the rights and interests of journalists, e.g. set out minimum wages and special pension benefits. In addition, as a means of quality assurance, chamber registration would be conditional on qualification and experience. Media companies that agree to cooperate with the chamber are also rumored to  be granted tax benefits. According to the Népszava report, membership would be mandatory for journalists working for major national news outlets. 

168 Óra’s Péter Cseri acknowledges the need to protect media workers’ interests. But the left-wing pundit interprets the alleged plans on the media chamber as a means of threatening journalists who criticize the government. Cseri also suspects that the new rules will favour pro-government media outlets who will become eligible for further benefits including tax cuts. Cseri is therefore highly skeptical whether the new regulations will protect the interests of journalists at all.

In Élet és Irodalom, Mária Vásárhelyi likens the alleged plans of mandatory chamber membership to the media laws introduced under Joseph Gobbels in Nazi Germany. The liberal sociologist contends that mandatory chamber membership is one of the favorite tools of left and right-wing dictatorial regimes to silence their critics. Vásárhelyi goes on to speculate that a government that already ‘dominates 80 per cent of Hungarian media’ wants to eliminate the remaining few independent media outlets after the 2018 election. Vásárhelyi surmises that the chamber rules will define the ethical conduct of journalists according to the government’s interests, and punish those who do not follow the government’s ‘propaganda line’.

In a very similar vein, Magyar Nemzet’s Tibor Pethő goes so far as speculating that the government will in the end completely rule the media landscape. He acknowledges that six years ago, domestic and international concerns about the Media Act were exaggerated and therefore people are now less sensitive to such warnings. Nevertheless, he believes that the Hungarian media may soon become the mouthpiece of the government.

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