MEP seeks ‘strongest measures’ to tackle Hungarian media law

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Parliament’s digital freedom strategy in EU foreign policy rapporteur Marietje Schaake has spoken out about the restriction of press in Hungary and Egypt.


In an interview with TheParliament.com, Schaake also underlined of the importance of internet freedom and the role that the EU can play in ensuring fundamental rights, saying, “The EU and the world need to play a role when it comes to trade, but also when it comes to the defence of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

She told this website that the ALDE group, herself included, are “very, very concerned” about what is happening in Hungary, and are “seeking the strongest measures to revoke the authoritarian laws that Victor Orbán has imposed.”

Hungary’s media laws have been widely criticised for undermining freedom of expression, a result of what Schaake referred to as a “power grab” due to Orbán ‘s party having a “majority in parliament”.

“All kinds of rules are [being] changed and all kinds of government bodies that ought to be independent are becoming politicised”, she said adding, “Especially when it comes to the media”.

“We all know from history where that kind of authoritarian tendency leads, and we’re very worried.

“I think that the Hungarian government needs to get in line with European values or otherwise face the strictest consequences.”

The Dutch official said that the EU needs to “step up its effort” and speak out “clearly and strongly” when fundamental rights are compromised, “especially when it comes to censorship, whether it’s traditional media or the internet”, she added, citing specifically to the situation in Egypt.

“The EU should show its leadership in the world and act as a community of values and we should reach out to a young generation that looks towards the EU for recognition of their universal rights, including the right to freely express, press freedom, access to information, and this should also apply online”.

The rapporteur explained that the “open internet” had developed “organically”, and that some countries, such as China and Russia, want to place restrictions on it rather than allowing internet freedom.

She continued, “Slowly but surely we see governments getting increasingly nervous about the power that is leaking away from them to companies, but also to individuals, and we see an increased ambition and effort to clamp down and to bring internet back under a country’s territorial control.”

“The fight and political in-fighting around the future of the internet and internet governance has really begun,” she said.

However, she argued that the EU should “resist” granting a mandate on restrictive internet measures and that instead “we should enforce and ensure that people appreciate the open internet and what it brings for economic development as well as for human rights”.

The ALDE deputy also stressed that the EU has to “learn the right lessons” From the UK’s Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.

She said that some media organisations had “over-stepped” their roles of participating in free press, engaging in activities that will “amount to criminal activity”.

“What we need to do is look at the laws which prohibit access to people’s private communications and protect their privacy, and implement them.

“The same goes for free press, it’s essential that we preserve a free press, a pluralist media landscape in Europe, but we don’t necessarily need new rules, lets begin by implementing the ones we have appropriately.”

Finally, speaking on the possibility of cyber-terrorism, she said, “If you open any newspaper or watch the evening news the word cyber seems to be everywhere. We hear about cyber-terrorists, cyber-security, cyber-warfare, cyber criminals, cyber threats and it almost seems like cyber is everywhere.

“But we have to be careful that we don’t treat ‘cyber’ as a different space, something outside of ordinary society, outside of everyday life.”

She said that internet has a huge role as it is used for “doing business”, “accessing information”, “moving around in traffic” and many other purposes.

Schaake went on, “I think we have to educate people, both in government and citizens, to make wise decisions, to be aware of the real risks, but we shouldn’t let hypes and industry based studies about threats and terrorism dominate policy discussions.

“If we compromise a lot of our freedoms for alleged threats this could be equally damaging.”

She said that we have “learned lessons” from the war on terror, and so we shouldn’t make the same mistakes when it comes to the “war on cyber-terror”.

 

Written for theparliament.com

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