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Friday, Dec 16, 2011, 9:55 am

Hungarian Journalists Stage Hunger Strike to Protest Govt. Meddling in Public Media

By Patrick Glennon

This video appeared at the Guardian on Thursday.

A handful of Hungarian journalists are taking a stand against what they see as the government’s heavy-handed influence on the nation’s public media.

Calling themselves the Movement for Honest Reporting, four free speech advocates are dismayed over the declining openness and freedom of Hungary’s press, and have decided to stage a symbolic hunger strike in response.

The group is led by television journalist Balázs Nagy-Navarro, along with his colleague Aranka Szávuly. Navarro is the vice-president of Hungary’s Television and Filmmakers Independent Trade Union, though he claims that his participation in the hunger strike is not merely as leader of the union, but in the capacity of a “citizen, and also a journalist.”

According to Navarro, the group has forsaken nourishment in order to call attention to the “distortion of information which is going on every day in the public media,” as well as the misuse of public tax dollars by a media elite who are in league with the current government.

The hunger strike comes in the wake of the government’s increasing influence on the content of the nation’s state-owned TV channel, Magyar Televízió (MTV). Several recent scandals have underscored the problem, such as a December 3 case in which the face of former chief judge Zoltan Lomnici—a prominent critic of current prime minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government—was pixilated on public news.

That was the “final straw,” Navarro says, that brought about the hunger strike.

The protest comes at a time when freedom of press watchdogs are expressing alarm over the condition of Hungary’s media. Last January, a law was enacted that stipulates “balanced coverage” as a legal mandate of news reporting. As to what that means, no one has a solid answer, but journalists are nervous over the state having power to enforce particular media content.

A November report by Freedom House, a freedom of speech advocacy organization, claims that “Hungary’s new model of media regulation is creating a chilling effect and undermining freedom of expression.” The report proceeds to highlight some of journalists’ core concerns: the Hungarian government can now order the disclosure of sources; there is little to no possibility for judicial review of decisions made by the media council or the government; and the government’s licensing practices threaten to undermine pluralism in news coverage.

If Navarro and his fellow activists have their way, these issues will enter public debate, paving the way for a re-liberalization of Hungary’s news media.

Patrick Glennon is a writer and musician living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in History from Skidmore College and currently works as Communications Manager for the Michael Forti for Cook County Court campaign and as the web intern at In These Times.

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