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Viktor Orban - 2010-20??

Viktor Orban Viktor Orban, again became Prime Minister, and assumed office on 29 May 2010, having previously served one term from 1998 to 2002. Prime Minister Orbán was eager to break with the weak institutions of the post-communist era. Since 2010 the government of Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party has made sweeping changes to the Hungarian constitutional and legal systems, a number of which have eroded the rule of law, human rights protections, and checks and balances among democratic institutions.

The Hungarian Information Service (MTI) was operating independently before the Orban government came to power in 2010. Orban nationalized it and fired all the independent journalists and put in their own people. Under this set of media laws, every newspaper, radio and TV station must use the dispatches from the MTI. They can add to it, but they can't fail to publish the government's perspective. And the media council, which is full of appointees of this government, have the power to levy bankrupting fines on any media outlet that fails to provide "balance." Balance is deemed as you have to publish the MTI reports.

A 2013 constitutional amendment and the revised civil code that became effective 15 March 2014 introduced hate speech provisions designed to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” These constitutional provisions provide for judicial remedies for damage to individuals and their communities that result from hate speech. In 2013 the Venice Commission raised concern that the “dignity of the Hungarian nation” provision might be applied to curtail criticism of the country’s institutions and office holders, which would be incompatible with the standards of free speech limitations in a democratic society.

By law the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The public service broadcasting system merges the supervisory boards of all government-owned public service broadcasting entities (including news service Magyar Tavirati Iroda) into the Public Service Foundation and places their finances and assets under the control of the Media Services and Asset Management Fund. Human rights NGOs continued to challenge the media legislation for failing to secure media pluralism and the independence of public service media. NGOs remained highly critical of the NMHH for being a politically homogeneous body consisting of members nominated exclusively by the governing parties.

On 11 June 2014, the parliament adopted a law introducing a tax on advertising. The tax is levied progressively on advertising revenues (not profits) received by radio and television channels, publishers, outdoor advertising firms, and websites, increasing to a top rate of 40 percent for revenues of more than 20 billion forint ($77 million). On November 18, parliament amended the law to increase this top rate to 50 percent, starting in 2015.More than 130 media outlets from the entire media spectrum protested the introduction of the tax. On 05 June 2014, television channels and websites nationwide broadcast blank screens and newspapers published blank pages in protest. The European Publishers Council criticized the tax for further eroding freedom of the press in the country, paralyzing the media sector, and having a devastating effect on independent news providers.

In 2014, RTL paid more than 50 percent of the earmarked revenue in tax while its main rival, Hungarian-owned TV2, was exempt from the highest bracket due to a number of deductions inserted into the law – including an amendment added less than 24 hours prior to Parliament’s vote on the law.

On 28 January 2014, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers released a report, Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media. The report concluded that “state capture of Hungarian media is unfolding slowly but surely, principally through the ‘soft censorship’ of financial incentives and influence that affect media outlets’ editorial content and economic viability.” According to the report, the Fidesz government “uses state advertising to bolster friendly media outlets, mainly those owned by leading business persons very close to the ruling party.” The report found “media outlets critical of government policies or supportive of opposition parties’ policies are denied almost all state advertising and other support, threatening their economic viability and seriously distorting the commercial market.”

The law provides for the granting of refugee status, subsidiary protection, or tolerated status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country is party to the Dublin II regulation and the newly adopted Dublin III regulation (in force since January 1) which provides for the returning of asylum seekers to the first EU member state they entered for processing. On February 4, the Office of Immigration and Nationality (BAH) announced that 18,900 asylum seekers arrived in the country in 2013, which was nine times more than in 2012 and as many as in the previous six years together.

Since 2013 a European Economic Area (EEA)-Norway NGO fund has provided grants to NGOs to strengthen civil society, focusing on issues of democratic values, the rule of law, transparency, gender equality, and assisting vulnerable groups. The fund operates under a memorandum of understanding between the donor and recipient government. The 153.3 million euro ($192 million) EEA-Norway Grants program for the country was administered by the government, except for its climate change and NGO funds, which were administered by the EEA-Norway Grants Financial Mechanism Office in Brussels.

On 04 April 2014, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister Janos Lazar, sent a letter to the Norwegian minister of EU and EEA affairs claiming that the consortium of four domestic foundations (Okotars Foundation, DemNet, the Carpathian Foundation, and the Autonomia Foundation) responsible for distributing the NGO fund was a satellite of the opposition green party Politics Can be Different. The letter implied that the Norwegian government was supporting Hungarian opposition parties through the NGO fund. On 09 May 2014, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on behalf of EEA donor countries it was suspending further disbursement of program funds to the government.

On 09 July 2014, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, sent a letter to Lazar stating “the stigmatizing rhetoric used in Hungary against NGOs active in the field of promoting human rights and democratic values, with politicians questioning the legitimacy of their work, is of great concern.” The commissioner also called upon authorities to suspend audits until their legal basis was clarified. On July 26, Prime Minister Orban gave a speech in which he referred to some NGOs in the country as “paid political activists…attempting to promote foreign interests.”

On 18 February 2015, Mertek Standard Media Monitor released a report, Gasping for Air: Soft Censorship in the Hungarian Media in 2014. The report described the media landscape as undergoing a “sweeping offensive by a political class that is thoroughly intertwined with oligarchs at every level and seeks to crack down on all instances of independent journalism, be the source a mainstream or nonprofit media outlet, an online newspaper, or a party-affiliated newspaper. This was being fought with a diverse arsenal, starting with political pressure, forced changes in ownership structure, efforts at financially bleeding out media outlets, all the way to the use of official and legal instruments.” The report also noted a high level of self-censorship: 30 percent of journalists who responded in a Mertek poll indicated they had concealed or distorted some facts during the previous year to avoid adverse consequences in their workplace, and 36 percent indicated they felt compelled to refuse an editor’s instruction to conceal or distort facts.

On 17 September 2015, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, criticized police for threatening reporters covering the refugee/migrant crisis. Mijatovic stated that “police beat reporters with batons, forced journalists to delete their footage, broke their equipment and threw tear gas,” while they were covering the situation at the Hungary-Serbia border on September 12 and 16. Hungarian authorities and some domestic media disputed the incidents, as well as the international media reports about the events,

Orban's ruling right-wing Fidesz party had wanted to change the constitution to legalize its policy of refusing to accept EU quotas for taking in refugees. In the 02 October 2016 anti-foreigner referendum, the Hungarian people delivered a blow to their prime minister. The majority of Hungarians simply didn't vote. A total of 3.3 million voters backed Orban's rejection of the EU's refugee quota plan. The ballot was deemed invalid due to low turnout in the nation of nearly 10 million people, notwithstanding Orban's claim that the outcome was "a sweeping victory" over "Brussels bureaucrats."

After the failed referendum, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also suffered a setback in his plans to bar the resettlement of migrants. The proposed constitutional amendment received 131 votes in the 199-seat parliament on 07 November 2016 - a majority of 65.8 percent, a fraction shy of the two-thirds majority needed. The far-right Jobbik party refused to cooperate with Orban. These extreme nationalists made the prime minister look like the man in the middle. The Jobbiks, true to their principles, wanted Orban to stop giving settlement rights to wealthy foreigners who buy special bonds, essentially paying for their entry into Hungary. The Hungarian far right didn't want any foreigners from outside the EU in their country - not even rich ones.

Orban's attempts to shake off the rise of Jobbik ahead of the next scheduled general election in 2018 by borrowing many of its often overtly racist sloganeering seem to be having the opposite effect, namely fueling Jobbik's further rise. Jobbik was vying with the Socialists as the second most popular party in the country.

The control over large parts of the media exerted by business interests close to the prime minister, and the sense that this might increase ahead of parliamentary elections in 2018, drew criticism at home and abroad.

During the year 2015 a conflict broke out between the prime minister and the owner of the largest government-friendly media empire (television, radio, and daily and weekly print media and radio). The conflict with one of Orban's chief backers, business magnate Lajos Simicska, led his media outlets to stop supporting the prime minister. This resulted in a massive reshuffling in the media market, prompting the expansion of government-friendly state enterprises in television and print media.

Orban's claim that he represents Europe's last hope for preserving "Judeo-Christian culture" has helped him cement a role as an international icon for the far-right and made him a scourge for liberal governments seeking to suppress populist and nativist challengers. Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen recently spoke of watching Hungary with envy. Donald Trump's former advisor Steve Bannon has called Orban a "hero."

In December 2018 thousands of Hungarians began protesting against the Orban government's social policies and against the anti-democratic restructuring of their country. It's a wave of protests the likes of which Hungary had not experienced in a long time. In some cases, police have been using violence and teargas against protesters in the last few days, even though before that there had merely been some scuffles with the officers. Dozens of people, some of them not even part of the protests, were arrested, and many were only released after 12 hours or more.

The wave of protests was triggered by an amendment to Hungarian labor law, now known to the public as the "slave law". The law increases the possible number of overtime hours per year per employee from 250 to 400. At the same time, employers can now take three years instead of one year to pay overtime. The amendment was passed over massive protests by trade unions, the opposition and civil organizations. The vote was riotous because the opposition had occupied the podium of the parliamentary president.

The Orban government responded in its own way: It claimed the protests were initiated by US billionaire George Soros and the forces behind him, as well as by people who want to flood Hungary with migrants. In addition, the government says, provocateurs and foreign criminals take part in the protests, with the goal of degrading Hungary abroad.

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Page last modified: 18-12-2018 18:40:58 ZULU