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Sunday, 26 March, 2000, 00:46 GMT
Battle for Hungary's media
Parliament
The battle for the media has been debated in parliament
Exactly 10 years after Hungary's first democratic elections which saw the former Communist Party peacefully elbowed out, a complex battle is raging over who wields political influence in the country's radio, TV stations and newspapers.

At the heart of the row between the governing centre-right coalition and the Free Democrat and Socialist opposition parties is the issue of who gets to stamp their authority on the media supervisory boards, which were set up to ensure political balance in state radio and TV.

Under Hungarian law, the state media supervisory bodies should be made up of at least eight members, drawn equally from the government and opposition.

The Socialists signalled they would appeal to the constitutional court after the government last week approved a four-member, pro-government control body for Duna TV, with no opposition candidates.


Orban
Mr Orban's government has seized control of media's supervisory boards
State-run Duna TV is a cultural channel aimed via satellite specifically at ethnic Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries.

The government argues that the opposition refused to put any of its candidates forward.

It is the third time Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has seized control of a supervisory board in this manner.

Earlier in March, he took a similar measure at Hungarian Radio and last year national television, MTV (Magyar Televizio), came under the ruling coalition's influence.

Journalists under fire

The political pressure from the right-leaning government coalition parties is also being felt in the national press.

Nepszabadsag, Hungary's largest-selling daily, reported last week that the US Ambassador in Hungary, Peter Tufo, had told Mr Orban that his duty should be to inform, not control, the media.

But Nepszabadsag, formerly the Communist Party daily up to the 1989-1990 transition, is itself coming under scrutiny.

Laszlo Csucs, of the ruling coalition Independent Smallholders' Party, is seeking to have the Transparency Act - which examines the Communist past of public officials and politicians - amended so that journalists too can be probed.

Supporters of the populist right in Hungary, and in particular the extreme-right, have long harboured suspicions that the national media - both broadcast and print - is dominated by a left-wing and elitist class of journalists, who have largely survived in their posts from the Communist era.

Far-right influence

Such is the passion to see the ousting of these types from influential media positions, that the tiny far-right MIEP, led by the ultra-nationalist Istvan Csurka, have demanded two posts on the media supervisory boards - far out of proportion with their number of parliamentary seats - in return for their support for Mr Orban in parliament.

But many fear the MIEP's influence in the media, especially on Duna TV, broadcasting as it does to the large ethnic Hungarian minority in Transylvania.

Only last week, ministers had to quickly distance themselves from Mr Csurka's remarks that the pollution of the Tisza was a deliberate attack by Romania on Hungary's "living space".

Peace offering

In recent days, the government has offered an olive branch by proposing a change in the media law in response to the complaints of bias.

It is proposing new public media boards made up of six people - one from each of the parliamentary parties.

But the Socialists are rejecting this too, saying it ignores the real proportions of parliamentary representation, and hands too much power to the far-right MIEP.

BBC Monitoring http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages

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See also:

10 Sep 99 | Europe
Hungary's role remembered
14 Oct 99 | Europe
EU set to spread east
03 Nov 99 | Iron Curtain
Budapest's changing face?
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