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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Free Press? Not in Hungary. But It Has A New Constitution!

There have been lots of complaints within the European Union about the lack of free press in Hungary. Also the assault on churches; in order to extract more money in taxes, in a desperate attempt to save Hungary from debt.
Viktor Orban even went so far to liken the European Union to the Soviet Union.

Enclosed find two articles published in Financial Times analyzing this tragic situation:

March 21, 2012 4:54 pm

Europe criticises Hungary’s media watchdog

By Kester Eddy in Budapest

Hungary’s media watchdog lacks transparency, has excessive powers and is staffed on a political rather than a professional basis, according to Europe’s main human rights body.

The preliminary report by the Council of Europe adds to the growing criticism of legislation passed by the centre-right government of Viktor Orbán, prime minister, since his election almost two years ago.

“It is equally important to safeguard the independence of the media and freedom of expression as it is to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and religious freedom,” said Thorbjorn Jagland, the council’s secretary-general, during a visit to Budapest on Wednesday.

Mr Jagland was in Hungary to to discuss with Mr Orbán and other cabinet members two other controversial laws – on the judiciary and recognition of churches, both passed at the end of last year – which the Council criticised sharply in a report on Monday.

The European Commission would take the council’s findings into account in its assessment of how Hungary’s laws matched up to European standards, Mr Jagland stressed.
The European Union has stated that Hungary must address the commission’s concerns about its laws on the central bank, judiciary and data protection before talks can begin on a joint credit facility from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Hungary requested an EU-IMF “safety net” in November, that is millions of EURO in RESERVE, just in case it goes banckrupt.

However, the latest analysis appears to raise even higher the bar that Budapest needs to clear.
While the Council of Europe accepts that it has yet to fully evaluate the effects of amendments to the country’s media laws, it warns that, given its powerful role, Hungary’s media council “must be independent – and be seen to be independent – from all political influence”.

The fiscal situation is really dire, in Hungary.

It stresses that “there are aspects of the appointments procedure for the members and chairperson of the council which are not transparent and do not go far enough to preserve its independence, as required by Council of Europe standards”, in particular since the chairperson is “directly and discretionarily” appointed by the prime minister for a term of nine years and can then be re-elected.

Among the criticisms, the analysis says Hungary’s media law uses “unclear definitions” and erodes the protection of journalists’ sources. The council notes that the media council can impose “severe sanctions” against media outlets deemed to have infringed regulations, including fines of up to €680,000 for some media.
“There is an issue of proportionality between the importance of the infringement and the severity of the sanction imposed,” the report says.

B. Wau, one has no chance to get a fiar trial in HU:

March 18, 2012 11:28 pm

Right to fair trial at risk in Hungary, study finds

By Neil Buckley, East Europe Editor

New Hungarian laws threaten the independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial, according to an arm of Europe’s top human rights body.
Hungary’s basic laws on the courts and religion, part of a raft of legislation adopted alongside a controversial constitution in January, will be sharply criticised on Monday by the Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe on constitutional matters.

The critical assessments are likely to come as a blow to Budapest, where the centre-right Fidesz government of Viktor Orbán has insisted the laws are in line with European norms.
The Venice Commission’s review will be discussed with Hungary’s government on Wednesday by Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the council, the 47-country organisation that promotes observance of democratic principles.
Thomas Markert, commission secretary, told the Financial Times the review was “very critical, more critical than most opinions” that his body produced. “We quite clearly state that we see a contradiction in the legislation as it stands now with European standards.”

But the opinions may intensify a backlash among Fidesz supporters over perceived interference in national sovereignty by European bodies. Mr Orbán told a rally of up to 250,000 last Thursday that Hungary would “not be a colony”. “We write our own constitutions,” he told the crowd. “We do not . . . need writing lines, nor do we require the unsolicited assistance of foreigners wanting to guide our hands.”
Europe’s complex network of institutions appears to be taking a more co-ordinated approach to claims that Hungary is backsliding on democratic values. The opinion on the judicial law will be taken into account by European Union officials deciding whether to take legal action against Budapest.
Final versions of the opinions were being kept tightly under wraps until publication on Monday afternoon. A leaked draft seen by the FT conceded that Hungary had badly needed to reform its judiciary. But it warned the reforms undertaken “not only contradict European standards of the organisation of the judiciary, especially on its independence, but are also problematic as concerns the right to a fair trial” under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The opinion voiced particular concern over sweeping powers given to the president of a new National Judicial Office, appointed by Hungary’s parliament for nine years and removable only by a two-thirds parliamentary vote.
It warned that in no other Council of Europe country were “such important powers . . . vested in a single person, lacking sufficient democratic accountability”.

Hungary’s opposition parties have complained that the judicial supremo role was given to a long-time political ally of Mr Orban who is also the wife of one of the constitution’s main authors.
Budapest, which saw the draft opinions this month, last week introduced amendments to the judicial law.
But Mr Markert, who will also visit Budapest this week, said it was too early to tell whether they addressed all his commission’s concerns.
The opinion on Hungary’s religious law is expected to say it, too, fell short of international standards and was disproportionate to the stated aim of curbing businesses masquerading as churches to qualify for state subsidies. The law reduced officially registered churches from more than 350 to 32.


The European Union Commissioner has asked PM Viktor Orban to correct this type of undemocratic practices.
Also the assault on churches is a tragic maneuver, where one can identify how the regime is trying to extract more money, and taxes from the religious constituency. I can see Hungarians coming to the U>S>A> seeking political asylum on these grounds. Bringing in the minorities from over the Hungarian borders hints also toward trying to collect more taxes, in a country ravaged by immense debt.

Dr Olga M. Lazin

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