Hungary raps rude radio amid growing media storm

February 2011


Hungary’s new media authority has launched proceedings against a local radio station in Hungary that dared to play two songs filled with obscenities during daytime hours. The Authority launched an investigation last week after local broadcaster Tilos played Ice-T’s “Warning” and “It’s On” on a September afternoon, outside the allowed late-night time slot, when in all events a vulgar language warning would have been needed to have precede the tracks. The Authority said that the obscenities in Ice-T’s songs could have an adverse impact on the moral development of listeners under the age of 16 although the radio station responded that children under 16 rarely have the command of English to be able to understand what the songs were about. In Hungary, still relatively few possess advanced foreign language skills. Tilos Radio, whose name means “forbidden” has played songs with obscene lyrics in the past and was fined both in 2003 and 2005.

The Ice-T scandal comes when Hungary is exposed to mounting criticism both at home and from the international community for the new and controversial media law that came into effect the same day the country assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency for the next six months. The new regulations require all media to provide a “balanced view” in their coverage, prompting outside observers and many local media to raise concerns about freedom of speech in Hungary. The new media law provides that the freedom of the media cannot infringe on public morality or offend human dignity. The laws, however, fail to define those values clearly. In particular the the new laws are criticised for being part of the ‘Orbanisation’ of Hungary – a power grab by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Any breaches of the new law will be interpreted by the Media Council, which consists only of members appointed by the governing Fidesz party, and the head of the new National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) was unilaterally appointed by the Prime Minister Orban. Hungary also has a quota system to promote national content and general-interest television channels must broadcast European-made programs for more than half of their programming, with Hungarian programming filling at least a third of overall broadcasting time. Radio channels are required to fill at least 35% of their music broadcasts with Hungarian music, and to promote new talent 25% of that music must be recent releases and can be no older than five years.

Prime Minister Orban has robustly defended criticism of the new laws and has said that Hungary will only change its laws if other European countries which Orban insists have ‘similar’ laws change theirs. One cannot help but have some sympathy with Mr Orban on this point. All European countries have some form of media regulation  – whether it is to promotes a plurality in ownership, moral standards, domestic cultures or  promote policies – and many European countries have blasphemy and obscenity laws . France has its own quota systems to protect French content and culture – and the French Code pénal  (by Article R645-1) bans, for example, the display and wearing (and thus auction online) of Nazi memorabilia. In Poland, Germany and Austria the criminal codes makes the public showing of the Hakenkreuz (the swastika) and other Nazi symbols illegal although their there are exceptions for scholarly reason. Blasphemy is also an offence in Austria along with Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands.  In the UK we have our much criticised libel laws, the use of so called ‘super injunctions’ to block press reporting on ‘private’ matters and the recent attempt by News International, owners of the Sun, The Times and the News of the World, to take 100% ownership of British Sky Broadcasting has raised important issues of media ownership and plurality, not least as the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World grows ever more complex. Until as recently as 1968 in the UK the Lord Chamberlain had the right to vet theatre scripts! In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi has both ownership of a powerful media company, Mediaset, which dominates the private sector and holds the position of Italian Prime Minister with significant influence over state broadcaster RAI.

After a meeting between Jose Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Orban agreed that the laws would be changed if they were deemed not to be in accordance with EU values, media freedoms and legislation.

See the Wall Street Journal Blog at and for more on this and an update on the new regime see and see
LICRA v. Yahoo! (2000) Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris (and see US case and appeal).

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