Germany expects Hungary to change media law

BERLIN, Dec 30 (Reuters) - The German government expects Hungary to make changes to a new media law that would tighten government control over news outlets and has drawn criticism from fellow European Union members.

Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer told a German newspaper that he hoped Hungary would move quickly to change the law, which is set to take effect on Jan. 1. Hungary takes over the EU’s rotating presidency from Belgium on Saturday.

“I assume that the final word by the Hungarian government hasn’t been spoken yet on this issue,” Hoyer told the Thursday edition of the Frankfurter Rundschau. “It would be very good if this issue could be cleared up quickly.”

Hoyer added: “We must ensure that basic rights are guaranteed in the European Union and a free press is among the core rights. If there are doubts they need to be eliminated. Even if I don’t know the exact wording of the new law, there are indeed doubts.”

Hungary’s parliament passed a law last week which tightens government control over news outlets. Media watchdogs say it is arbitrary and ill-defined and several leading European newspapers have issued strong protests against it. [ID:nLDE6BM09M]

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has said the law violates the “spirit and letter” of EU treaties and urged the European Commission to take swift action in response.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed to stick with the legislation and attributed the backlash to a lack of understanding of domestic issues in his country.

The new National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH), dominated by people loyal to the ruling Fidesz party, will oversee all public news production and its powers will include levying big fines on private media that violate the law.

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Noah Barkin)

((Reuters messaging: Keywords: HUNGARY MEDIA/GERMANY

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