EC delegate warns Hungary over public media

BUDAPEST, Mar 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Hungarian government's tight control of state media could damage its bid to join the European Union, the European Commission's delegate to Budapest warned Thursday.

Michael Lake was speaking three days after the resignation of Hungary's Chief prosecutor in a move widely thought to represent a protest against the ruling coalition's increasingly draconian control of the state media.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's rightwing coalition majority has recently created the second state media supervisory body made up exclusively of government candidates, despite Hungarian laws stating the body should be run on a parity of government and opposition candidates.

"The media affair cannot be separated from EU accession and its political criteria," Lake told journalists.

"Public service media cannot be be credible, cannot be seen as credible until it operates under balanced and objective control," he said.

Hungary is a keen candidate for first-wave EU membership. It has pledged to bring its law in line with European Union standards.

"I am sure that the EU's annual country report on Hungary will devote much attention to the fact that only government candidates are sitting on the control bodies of state radio and television while the law prescribes a politically balanced body," Lake pointed out.

Hungary's Chief prosecutor Kalman Gyoergyi resigned Monday after officials shrugged off his protest over the government's control of state radio, which he is said to consider illegal.

"The chief prosecutor's opinion has no legal relevance," said Parliament Speaker Janos Ader.

Opposition parties angrily charged that the government had "openly started to march down an illegal road," and threatened to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

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