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Thousands march in Hungarian free press protest

A Hungarian protester shouts anti government slogans while thousands gathered on Hungary's national holiday (remembering the 1848 revolution) to demonstrate against the government's new and disputed media law in downtown Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

About 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Budapest Tuesday to support press freedom in the third and largest protest of its kind and despite amendments to controversial laws governing the media, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The demonstration was organised over the Internet and was much bigger than its January 14 predecessor, which brought out about 10,000 people.

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The country's parliament voted earlier this month to amend its disputed legislation on issues such as media registration and balanced reporting, following criticism from the European Union. However, no changes were made to the Media Council, a body that oversees all coverage and is made up entirely of close allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party, critics noted.

The law under debate came into force on January 1, quickly poisoning Hungary's six-month presidency of the European Union just as it began.

Actor Janos Kulka, one of the driving forces behind the protests, said the protest was "the biggest civil demonstration since the change of the system," meaning since the fall of the communist regime. The organisers of the protests called on the government to scrap the law, seen as an attempt to muzzle the press. "Although the law has been modified under pressure from Brussels, that is not enough because the problem of arbitrary penalties remains and the independence of the Media Council is still not guaranteed," according to leaflets distributed during the peaceful march, held on a national holiday.

Theatre director Arpad Schilling said the message of the media law was that the "citizen is not a partner but a problem."

The organisers said sympathy protests had taken place in Frankfurt, New York and Bucharest. Orban had referred to the legislation earlier in the day at a demonstration organised by Fidesz to commemorate the 1848 Hungarian revolution. "In 1848 the Hungarians refused to let the Austrians dictate the law," he told some 20,000 supporters. "In 1956 we rose up against Moscow and today we shall not let anyone impose on us anything whatsoever, from Brussels or elsewhere."

Date posted: March 17, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 113