Be nice or else

A new Hungarian media law will hand out fines for unbalanced news coverage

In Hungary, which takes over the European Presidency on Jan. 1, the parliament has passed a media law that some in Canada would dream of: it gives a government-appointed board the mandate to seek out unbalanced news coverage and levy massive fines for those deemed to transgress.

“Media can be forced to reveal their sources, the media authority can search editorial offices, can copy reporters’ notes and mandate that publishers hand over confidential business information and levy serious fines on those that refuse,” according to one account. “Immoral” reporting, involving sex, violence or alcohol, would be policed too. Hungarian newspapers have run blank front pages in protest.  Poland’s Adam Michnik, a hero of the anti-Communist resistance and a great newspaper proprietor, is pretty angry.

The government of one-time pro-democracy darling Viktor Orban says its hands are tied: the bill was introduced as a private-members measure, so government members have no responsibility for it, although they all, surprise surprise, wound up voting for it.

So now a panel of government appointees will decide what’s fair, balanced and nice, and punish transgressors. How could this possibly go wrong?

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