Last year's elections in Hungary brought the right-wing firmly into office with a "super majority".
They set off making numerous changes to their laws and then on 20 December 2010 their Parliament decided that they should suppress dissent with fines and punishment for all media, including blogs.
The new law imposes restrictions on all public or privately owned media content, whether broadcast, print or web-based.
The National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH), established by the new legislation, has the authority to punish journalists on the basis of vague concepts such as “public interest”, “common morality”, “public order” and the “infringement of the obligation of balanced reporting”.
Media outlets that breach the law face fines ranging from EUR 35,000 to EUR 730,000, or even closure.
There are also concerns about the independence of the NMHH, whose president is appointed by the Prime Minister for nine years. The procedure to appoint the other members of the NMHH does not ensure plurality.
The right-wing shift of the government in Hungary already was a concern for other EU states but this law quickly became the focus of sharp criticism.
A tense [Hungarian Prime Minister] Orbán, sometimes bullish but often on the defensive, faced a two-hour hostile grilling by MEPs, who warned that Budapest was on a collision course with its European partners unless its media law is brought in line with EU values.
Pre-empting the attacks, Orbán warned: "Don't mix up criticism of Hungarian internal politics with the Hungarian EU Presidency." He added: "If you mix up, I'm ready to fight."
This past Monday the Hungarian government showed signs of compromise. They made amendments to the law, but the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says the changes are not enough; the law still violates EU regulations.
The law vests unusually broad powers in the politically homogeneous Media Authority and Media Council, enabling them to control content of all media. The legislation regulates broadcast, print and online media content based on identical principles. It leaves key terms undefined. It requires all media to be registered with the Media Authority. It punishes violations with high fines. It fails to guarantee the political independence of public service media.
The OSCE had sent a list of recommendations and guidance for Hungary to follow, which they also published online. Interesting test of the EU ability to bring a right-wing shift back to the center.
The news reminds me that when I traveled through Hungary very soon after the fall of Soviet rule I saw fresh black swastikas spray painted on many bridges and roads. The symbols of fascism became so prevalent, I was told after I left, that in 1993 the government tried to enact a ban.