Attacks on press in Hungary and Poland are deeply concerning, EU must defend media freedom

11/02/2021

Free media

The PES is deeply concerned about developments in Hungary and Poland, where right-wing governments are seeking to supress free and independent media. Socialists and democrats will not stand by whilst press freedom is attacked inside the EU. A free press is an essential part of democracy.

PES President Sergei Stanishev said:

“We are witnessing a very worrying and dangerous attack on democratic, European, values. The situation in Hungary and Poland is deeply concerning.

“Progressives support a free media. Independent reporting ensures every citizen has access to quality, trustworthy, information so they can keep their government in check. This is obviously something EPP-member Fidesz and ECR-member PiS are desperate to avoid. It seems they will use almost any method to prevent scrutiny and criticism.

“As socialists and democrats, we will never stand by whilst press freedom is under assault. A free press is an essential part of democracy which must always be defended from right-wing, authoritarian, attacks. We stand by our member parties in Hungary and Poland, and all those who back democracy and independent media. We are continuing to follow the developments very closely.”

This week, Hungarian radio station Klubrádió was effectively taken off air regulators. The popular Budapest-based current affairs station has a proud history of covering news which is often ignored by government-backing conservative media, such as poverty, gender equality, migration, NGOs, and controversial historic issues. The government-controlled Media Council has refused to renew the station’s broadcasting licence, which is set to lapse on 14 February 2021.

Attempts to crack-down on Klubrádió come as Victor Orban faces the prospect of losing the general elections next year in the face of a strong United Opposition, which is leading in the polls. Hiding behind procedures, EPP-member Fidesz is trying to silence opposition. Klubrádió is the last radio station in a shrinking independent media portfolio in Hungary, which represents around 5 % of national media; 95 % belongs to state-run or pro-government private investors circles.

Citizens in Hungary are bombarded with state propaganda and are not informed about government scandals, disputable decisions or corruption. The last barricade for civil society is free media, which Orban wants to destroy so he can have even greater control over citizens’ lives.

The attack on free media by the Hungarian government comes at the same time as independent media in Poland are protesting for their future.

The Polish government is introducing a new tax on advertising that will drain the funding of private media, which provide vital independent reporting. The new tax is expected to cost independent media 240 million euros at the same time as state-owned media - which publishes pro-governmental propaganda and attacks on the opposition - enjoy a state-donation of 430 million euros a year on top of advertising income and obligatory fees paid by citizens. The PiS-run government is determined to undercut funding for media they do not control and boost resources for outlets which support the government.