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What the EU Commissioner is advocating for is the so-called European Media Freedom Act- a separate set of rules regulating media concentration and ownership. The legislation is intended to prevent member states from going down the same path as Hungary, where the ruling party Fidesz, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has taken control of over 70% of the domestic media market.
Vera Jourová, the Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, has also been a long-time supporter of such regulations. Back in March, she described the situation in Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia as "worrying".
Jourová: "We need to widen and strengthen the Commission’s toolbox"
At the same time, the Vice-President admitted that the EU is lacking sufficient legal tools to prevent media concentration and takeover by state-owned companies or oligarchs with close ties to the government. Currently, decisions on possible mergers are at the discretion of particular member states.
Some governments, however, are circumventing national laws in order to silence critical coverage. This is exactly what happened in Hungary. Three years ago, around 500 editorial offices were put under the authority of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), headed by a representative of the ruling Fidesz party. Hungarian anti-trust authorities did not even bother to launch an investigation into whether concentrating so many titles in a single foundation violates the regulations on the free market. The Hungarian parliament, where Fidesz has a majority, passed a law defining media as a 'national asset', effectively making them immune to anti-concentration regulations.
According to Ms Jourová, the Hungarian case proves that the media should not be treated like ordinary economic entities, but should rather be subject to separate regulations.
International Press Institute sides with the Commission
International organizations promoting media independence and press freedom voiced their support for a European Media Freedom Act proposed by the Commission.
"The current lack of such tools has meant that too often, the EU remains on the sidelines as supposedly independent but effectively politically-controlled bodies in member states make or validate decisions that restrict media freedom and pluralism" – reads a statement of support signed (among others) by the International Press Institute (IPI).
The organization points out that the Polish, Hungarian and Slovenian governments “have abused regulatory, economic and legislative powers to punish critical media" and turned public media into party propaganda machines.
As an example, IPI mentions the Hungarian KESMA foundation and the acquisition of the Polska Press media group by the Polish state-run oil company Orlen.
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