By Martin Banks - 18th January 2011
This is not something that can wait until tomorrow
S&D group leader Martin Schulz
All of these comments were already out and about before the law was approved. If the commission finds any inconsistencies, the government is ready to take steps to bridge them
Hungarian justice minister Tibor Navracsics
We are looking very carefully at the provisions and will make a legal assessment of the law. We have been in contact with the Hungarian government in order to raise specific concerns
Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes
S&D leader Martin Schulz has demanded that Hungary withdraws its controversial new media law.
The law greatly expands the state's power to monitor and penalise private news outlets but there are concerns it will be used against media critical of prime minister Viktor Orbán's government.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Schulz, the leader of parliament's socialist group, strongly criticised the law, saying it was "not compatible with EU principles."
He was also critical of the European commission, saying he was "perturbed" it had not acted sooner to reprimand Hungary and demand suspension of the law before Hungary took over the EU presidency.
He singled out EU commission vice-president Viviane Reding, who is responsible for fundamental rights and citizenship, for particular criticism for failing to turn up for a parliamentary committee meeting in Strasbourg on Monday where the issue was debated.
"She was due to attend and I was surprised she was not there. It is disappointing."
Schulz said he would press Orbán to withdraw the law when he meets the Hungarian PM later on Tuesday.
"This is not something that can wait until tomorrow and I will tell him that it is important he acts quickly over this," he said.
Similar criticism was made of Hungary at a separate news conference by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Rebecca Harms, the joint leaders of the Greens/EFA group in parliament.
Cohn-Bendit said Hungary should not be able to hold the EU presidency for the next six months until the law is scrapped while Harms, a German deputy, believes Hungary's reputation was "suffering" as a result of the current furore.
She said the media issue was one of several concerns about "democratic developments" in Hungary.
The matter was debated by the civil liberties and culture committees in Strasbourg on Monday.
Some MEPs urged Hungary to withdraw the law immediately, whilst others urged it to wait until the commission has assessed its compatibility with EU legislation and fundamental rights.
Hungarian justice minister Tibor Navracsics promised to amend the law if necessary, but defended its introduction.
"All of these comments were already out and about before the law was approved. If the commission finds any inconsistencies, the government is ready to take steps to bridge them", he added.
Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes told MEPs, "We are looking very carefully at the provisions and will make a legal assessment of the law. We have been in contact with the Hungarian government in order to raise specific concerns."
She added that the commission is assessing the new law's compatibility with the EU audiovisual and media services (AVMS) directive, and that preliminary examination had already indicated some problems.