Hungary political parties fight for media control

BUDAPEST, Mar 4, 2000 -- (Reuters) Hungary is in the grip of a media war after a vote by parliament that filled key posts in the state-run media with candidates of the center-right government party.

Tuesday's vote has set off a political storm over control of the media, analysts said.

"There is a media war underway," said Tibor Vidos, political analyst. "In the public service media balanced control and balanced information of the public are in jeopardy."

The media law passed under the previous Socialist-led cabinet says parliamentary parties must be represented in a balanced way on boards that control state-run media.

But on Tuesday parliament voted in a new board for state-run radio comprising only government party candidates after the opposition failed to put forward common candidates.

"I have to tell you that this is unprecedented in the history of Hungarian democracy," Gyula Horn, former Prime Minister told Reuters on Thursday as the youth wing of the Socialists held a rally against the ruling.

Parties have been battling for years in post-communist Hungary for control of the media, with each new cabinet clearing out the state-run media to bring in its own associates.

The European Union, which Hungary hopes to join in a few years, has criticized Hungary for turning the state-owned media into a political football.

Under the media law both the government and the opposition can delegate four members into each board of trustees.

But the far-right MIEP party, which has 12 parliament seats, blocked an opposition consensus by refusing to budge from its demand to name two of the four opposition delegates, leaving the Socialists, who have 134 MPs, with only one delegate.

Fidesz, the senior government party blames the opposition for the "media tug-of-war".

But the government could suffer from the dispute in the long run, analysts say.

"It is in the interest of the opposition (to keep this on the agenda) as ... this erodes the prestige and support of the government," said Attila Ledenyi, a political analyst.

Although Fidesz denies any relations with MIEP, some analysts warn the government should dissociate itself from the far-right party after the EU's firm objection to Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in neighboring Austria.

"The question is if the government can afford even the appearance that it co-operates with MIEP in the media boards issue," Vidos pointed out.

Original article