10 000 Hungarians mark Press Freedom Day amid media control row

BUDAPEST, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Some 10,000 Hungarians turned out Wednesday to mark press freedom day in a quiet celebration where speakers criticised the government's increasing control over state media.

The event was held separately from official celebrations to mark Hungary's March 15 national holiday, the anniversary of Hungary's 1848 revolution and the fight to break away from the Hapsburg empire.

In Budapest's March 15 Square, Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky slammed rightwing Prime Minister Viktor Orban for creating a state media supervisory body made up exclusively of government nominees.

"Today, the ruling power again imagines that the press is its own property," said Demszky, a member of the opposition liberal Alliance of Free Democrats party.

Under Hungarian law, state media must be controlled by bodies that include an equal number of government and opposition nominees.

"The Hungarian prime minister is not with us today," Demszky pointed out, recalling how Orban once demonstrated for press freedom.

"Ruling politicians are ready to restrict the freedom of press and speech. This mirror, the press, can be broken but that will not make ugly things disappear. It will show if the ruling power is corrupt, or simply silly," Demszky said.

Orban and Goencz took part together at the kickoff of the state celebrations earlier in the day.

But Orban publicly turned down an invitation to the March 15 Square event, instead sending his cabinet chief to place flowers there.

Earlier Wednesday, Orban rejected domestic and foreign criticism of his moves to bolster government control of state media, citing examples from western Europe where, he said, the situation was no better.

More than 4,000 Hungarians demonstrated in Budapest on Tuesday in favour of press freedom, and the opposition said it would appeal to the constitutional court over the government's moves to control state media.

Original article