Press freedom increasingly threatened in Poland and Hungary
Organizations for the defense of freedom of expression, human rights institutions, journalists’ unions and reference media all over the world have shown growing concern about the autocratic decisions of the supposedly democratic governments of Hungary and Poland due to the constant and more and more frequent attacks on the press that is not totally faithful to them. We offers you two interesting analyzes on this subject, from the prestigious Washington Post and EUobserver, expressing their concern about the increasingly frequent attacks on news pluralism.
The Editor of Other News, Feb.18, 2021
Poland steps up an assault on free expression.
The U.S. response will be crucial.
by Editorial Board – The Washington Post
was a bad one for freedom of expression in Poland, a country that casts itself
as one of the closest European U.S. allies. On Feb. 10, dozens of news
black pages and
TV screens went dark in protest of the government’s plans to impose an onerous
new tax on media advertising. The same day, a leader of a movement that has led
protests against draconian new abortion restrictions was charged with
multiple criminal offenses. And one day previous, a judge ordered two respected Holocaust
attributing blame to a Polish mayor for the murder of Jews during World War II.
acts were, in one way or another, the product of the right-wing nationalist
movement that has controlled Poland’s government since 2015 and is slowly
steering the country toward autocracy. The Law and Justice party has moved
to strip courts of
their independence, take control of
independent media or drive them out of business, and silence critics of its
far-right social policies. It also seeks to suppress any suggestion that
individual Poles were complicit in the Holocaust, despite abundant evidence to
campaign against pluralism accelerated after Law and Justice narrowly won a
presidential election last July. Since then, the state oil company purchased two
dozen regional daily newspapers and 120 weeklies from their German owner,
following the model of Hungary’s authoritarian government, which has silenced
critical media through such sales. It floated laws aimed at forcing the sale or
breakup of a U.S.-owned television station and a conglomerate that owns the
most popular and respected newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza — only to retreatunder
advertising tax is aimed at the same targets. Large organizations such as
U.S.-owned TVN and Gazeta Wyborcza would have to pay a tax of up to 15 percent
on their advertising revenue, something that would curtail their ability to fund
news coverage. A letter issued by the 43 media participating in last
Wednesday’s protest called the tax “simply extortion” that could lead to the
closing of private media, even as the government heaps funding on state outlets
it has converted into propaganda organs. After the protest, officials said the
law would be revised, but not abandoned.
case brought against Marta Lempart, a leader of the Polish Women’s Strike, was a reaction to mass protests
that erupted after the constitutional court — which previously had been packed by
Law and Justice — banned almost all abortions. Ms. Lempart was charged, among
other things, for a radio interview she gave in which she praised demonstrators
who allegedly disrupted church services.
the libel suit against Holocaust scholars Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking
was ginned up by the Polish League Against Defamation, which receives
government funding. The aim was to discredit a 1,700-page study of the
complicity of individual Poles in the Nazis’ mass murder of the country’s Jews.
“In a normal world this case would have been dismissed long ago,” Mr. Grabowski told the
New York Times.
“But Poland can no longer be considered a normal democracy.”
Justice was favored by President Donald Trump, who visited
endorsed its nationalism. But last week, the spokesman of the Biden
administration’s State Department noted the “constricting space for
civil society in Poland” and added that “we do have broader concerns, including
the proposed media tax.” We hope that’s the beginning of a significant shift in
U.S. posture toward Poland’s anti-democratic drift.
How Orbán killed a
By Jamie Wiseman – EUobserver
democracy does not die overnight. Rather, it is dismantled brick by
brick until the pillars on which it once stood are hollowed out and crumble.
This slow erosion of democratic institutions has been
underway for more than a decade now in Hungary, where the ruling Fidesz party
media independence and pluralism to achieve a degree of media control
unprecedented in an EU member state.
Today (15 February) yet another brick in the country’s
democracy was removed, with devastating implications for press freedom both in
Hungary and the wider EU.
At midnight last night, one of Hungary’s last remaining
independent radio stations, Budapest-based Klubrádió,
fell silent on the frequency on which it has broadcast since 2000.
The two rulings resign Klubrádió to broadcasting solely from
the internet and cap the end of a decade-long campaign by the ruling Fidesz
party led by prime minister Viktor Orbán to muzzle one of the country’s last
major radio stations which airs views critical of the government.
For many in Hungary, there is a sense of déjà vu.
A decade ago, Klubrádió’s license renewal was blocked on
similarly trivial grounds by the same Media Council, which has long been
stacked with Fidesz appointees.
A grassroots campaign by more than 10,000 supporters and
interventions from foreign politicians such as then-US secretary of state
Hillary Clinton ensured the station was eventually awarded a long-term
frequency in March 2013.
Frustrated by this setback, the Fidesz government was forced
to look for alternative ways to silence the station.
Over the next few years, pressure on Klubrádió was ratcheted
up as the station was fined and blacklisted for interviews, information and
advertising from state-owned companies and agencies.
Meanwhile the media regulator stripped it of regional
frequencies, confining it to the capital. Yet while other independent media in
Hungary fell, Klubrádió stood firm.
This situation became untenable for the government in 2019,
when the liberal opposition candidate triumphed over the Fidesz incumbent in
Budapest’s mayoral election.
Shaken by its first major electoral loss since 2010, the
party immediately looked to punish those responsible and ensure defeat in the
capital was not replicated in 2022’s parliamentary elections.
Where better to look than the city’s most influential
As in 2011, the best opportunity for Fidesz to strike would
be the contract renewal of Budapest FM 92.9 MH in 2020.
In the months leading up to the decision, the government
began laying the groundwork.
When the time came for the license renewal to be considered,
the Fidesz-controlled regulator interpreted two minor infringements from 2016
as “repeated violations” and blocked
the extension. Rival bids were then rejected for trivial reasons, opening a
lengthy appeal process.
To ensure Klubrádió would remain trapped in legal limbo
during this time, in 2020 the government used its majority to amend the law on
provisional licenses so that they can no longer be granted during ongoing
litigation. Last-minute initiatives by opposition parties were blocked.
To shut off the last remaining avenue to remain on air, DAB+
digital broadcasting in Hungary was discontinued in 2020.
This multi-pronged effort to stack the deck against
Klubrádió reflects the Hungarian government’s strategy of media and regulatory
capture. State institutions have been filled with Fidesz loyalists and then
abused to artificially distort the market and undermine independent media.
This has occurred under the noses of the EU, which has
failed to recognise the severity of the issue or take appropriate action.
Article 7 proceedings have had little effect and competition complains over
market distortion have yet to
be responded to.
The result is that over the last decade, the pillars of
Hungary’s democracy have been severely weakened.
This would be alarming enough if it were not just one EU
state that was affected. The success of the model in Hungary has not gone
The recent announcement that the European Commission was
engaging with the Hungarian government is a welcome development. It must urge
Budapest to find a temporary solution to make sure Klubrádió is not wiped off
It is also abundantly clear the decision by the Media
Council to block the license renewal did not respect the principles of
proportionality or non-discrimination, and therefore contravened EU law.
The EU Commission has a responsibility to do all it can to
stop the removal of yet another brick from the wall of Hungary’s country’s rapidly