es Vienna/ Brussels, May 4, 2021
European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová yesterday called for new EU rules about media concentration. In an interview in Brussels she said she had been unable to act on a complaint about Hungary’s Fidesz government taking effective control of a large swathe of the media through KESMA, a conglomerate made up of almost 500 media groups. But it was financially “too small” to qualify for intervention under EU Competition Law, she said.
“This frustration that we cannot do anything through competition rules leads us [to] think about better rules,” said the Commissioner. She would call for a new law to protect journalism as a pillar of democracy in Europe, she said.
Her battle with Viktor Orbán over his blatantly repressive state media policy is not new, and being watched closely by EU states where it is clear what political advantages it has brought him and – so far – with little or no discernible damage, financial or otherwise.
If anything his overt nationalism, his attempt to change the “national narrative” and a “Hungarification” programme, paralleled in Poland, pushing Hungarian culture including pop music, has cemented his viscerally Eurosceptic campaigns. Last year Orbán went so far as to call for Jourová’s resignation when, as Commission Vice-President responsible for Values and Transparency, she spoke of the EU as being at the bedside of “sick democracies” and announced a “congress on democracy” for 2021.
An unsuccessful attempt was made to reduce or weaken Hungary’s state-controlled media concentration in 2019, with a complaint about public advertising as a form of state aid. In 2016 KESMA was also – again unsuccessfully – in the EU’s sights over allegedly excessive funding for “loyal” media, a familiar government tactic not just in Hungary. The Orban policy is so overt that the issue has long been discussed internationally, and in Hungary itself was raised by ex-MEP Benedek Jávor, the news platform Klubrádió, and the Budapest media policy think tank Mérték, and yesterday in another hard-hitting statement by the AEJ’s Section in Budapest.
The issue for the united opposition parties is whether Orban, level-pegging with them at 48% each according to the polls, can be ousted in the next parliamentary elections, due to take place by 2022. Deutsche Welle‘s analysis argues that Orban’s takeover of institutions means his and his Fidesz party’s grip will remain, whatever happens.
Lahodynsky: no democracy without free media