Findings: tendering and licensing, issuing decrees

The Hungarian Government accurately cites two examples in which media authorities have powers to a) renew licenses without a tender (France), and b) issue directives (Germany). However the expert assessments indicate that neither example cited corresponds to the criticisms of the Media Authority’s specific powers in these areas.

a) Tendering/licensing

The expert assessment shows that the Hungarian Government’s example correctly claims that the French High Council for Broadcasting (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel – CSA) can renew existing broadcasting licenses without a tender. The CSA has the right to renew existing licenses for analogue and digital terrestrial commercial TV and radio up to two times for a maximum of five years each time, following a specific set of procedures and conditions as specified in the law. Yet this example does not correspond to the criticism to which the Hungarian Government is responding: the Media Authority’s power to award new licenses without a tender. According to the expert assessment, the CSA does not have any power to grant new licenses without tendering under the current law.

b) Issuing directives

The Hungarian Government accurately claims that each of Germany’s 14 state media authorities may issue directives related to advertising and sponsorship, media concentration and the protection of minors. According to the country expert, these directives are used as guidelines for executing existing legislation in order to ensure that media authorities apply common, transparent decision-making practices. It should be noted that in many European countries the media authorities are empowered to issue these kinds of directives as means of further elaborating their competencies over certain aspects of media regulation. In the German case, these powers are limited to the areas specified above, and for instance do not include the authority to issue decisions on new grounds for sanctions, which would require legislation enacted by the respective parliament(s).

By comparison, Hungary’s Media Authority president is vested with ministerial-level decree-making powers in matters of licensing and spectrum fees. However, the Hungarian Government cites an example of a state-level regulatory body with powers to issue directives; an example of an individual media regulator within a national-level regulatory body with decree-making powers similar to those granted to Hungary’s Media Authority president would provide a more proportionate comparison.

Findings: the Media Commissioner

In response to the criticisms of the Media Commissioner’s role and powers, the Hungarian Government provides examples of similar ombudsman and press council systems in three EU-member states: Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania.

According to the expert assessments, the Hungarian Government’s comparisons of Hungary’s Media Commissioner to the ombudsman and press council systems in these three examples are not accurate. The expert analyses indicate that the ombudsman and/or press councils cited in Finland, Ireland and Lithuania operate as independent entities from the respective media authority in monitoring and enforcing compliance with legal regulations, codes of ethics, and/or in handling disputes between the public and the press. Hungary’s Media Commissioner, by comparison, is an appointee of the Media Authority president, operating within and as a representative of Hungary’s Media Authority. The Commissioner has the authority to initiate proceedings that do not involve violations of the law and its proceedings can be enforced by Media Authority-issued fines and sanctions. Although its tasks include handling complaints from the public regarding media content, the Media Commissioner’s additional monitoring and enforcement powers exceed those afforded to three bodies cited by the Hungarian Government. According to the expert analyses, the Government’s examples appear to erroneously equate the Media Commissioner’s role and powers with those of a traditional ombudsman, while also inaccurately presenting the respective powers and roles of the ombudsman and press council systems in the three cited cases.

Finland: According to the expert assessment, the Hungarian Government’s example correctly states that compliance with provisions in Finland’s media act(s) are overseen by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA), or in certain cases the Consumer Ombudsman. The Consumer Ombudsman supervises specific provisions in the media laws concerning misleading or unethical advertising and regulations on the protection of minors. But neither body has any role in codifying the media acts, as stated by the Hungarian Government, nor does an ombudsman dedicated to media-related matters exist in the Finnish media regulatory system, as the Government’s example seems to imply. Hence, whereas the Consumer Ombudsman’s authority extends to monitoring compliance with specific regulations regarding advertising and protection of minors regulations as specified in the laws, Hungary’s Media Commissioner is empowered to investigate an unspecified range of content which may cause “harm” to viewers, listeners or readers but does not constitute a breach of any legal regulations.

Ireland: The expert finds that the Hungarian Government’s example of the role of the press council and ombudsman in the Irish media system is “misleading.” The Irish Press Council and Ombudsman are independent self-regulatory bodies and not a part of Ireland’s national media regulatory system. Membership in the Irish Press Council is voluntary. According to the expert, neither body constitute a “judicial panel” nor are their roles confined to print media or to settling “privacy disputes,” as the Hungarian Government’s statement describes. In addition, neither body has sanctioning powers and their decisions are not legally enforceable: their primary roles are to settle disputes between the public and the press, based on the Press Council’s established codes of professional conduct. It is therefore inaccurate to compare these bodies with Hungary’s Media Commissioner, which is part of the national media body with legal enforcement powers.

Lithuania: According to the expert analysis, the Hungarian Government’s statement appears to refer to the Inspector of Journalist Ethics, a state official responsible for overseeing the print and online press, and to the Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission, a self-regulatory body. The Inspector of Journalist Ethics operates as part of Lithuania’s national media regulatory body, and can oversee compliance with and assess sanctions to breaches to the media laws. The Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission is a self-regulatory body which oversees compliance with the Code of Ethics of Lithuanian Journalists and Publishers. In terms of their competencies and powers, neither bodies sufficiently compare to the Media Commissioner in Hungary.