Media pluralism is at the centre of political controversy, receiving international attention. The ruling power asserts that all constitutional and European norms are observed and claims there is a balanced offer. As to critics, some of the main arguments are as follows:
- All five members of the top authority Media Council are selected by Fidesz, the ruling party, and are appointed for nine years
- Important independent media outlets have been liquidated or coerced into serving the government
- Public service media allow minimum space to voices other than the government
- Most advertisements by the state and its enterprises are placed with pro-government media
- Government advertisements absorb an exceptionally high share of the budget, and their content is propaganda rather than information, creating an air of permanent campaign for the ruling party
Some of these critical points are touched upon in the 2021 Rule of Law Report of the European Commission.
The legal fundament of the media is the Act on Media Services and Mass Media (CLXXXV/2010). The highest-level competence is embodied in the Media Council. Its chairperson is the CEO of the National Media and Info-communication Authority which carries out the regulation and supervision of public and private media in the country.
Public media, including the National Radio, the National Television, the Duna Television, and the Hungarian Press Agency, are governed by a body called the Public Service Public Foundation (Közszolgálati Közalapítvány).
Public TV broadcasts on four channels, while public radio uses three channels. Their main source is the state budget. According to Eurostat-Cofog data, with 0.3% of the GDP, in 2018 and 2019 Hungary spent one of the highest shares on public media in Europe.
The long-term licences of private – commercial and community – channels are awarded by way of public tenders; submissions are evaluated and decided by the Media Council. All media service providers must abide by the programme quotas in the Media Act.
Linear audio-visual media (television) must broadcast European works in over 50%, and Hungarian works in over 33% of their time, and at least 10% of European and at least 8% of Hungarian works must be ordered from independent producers. On-demand media has a minimum quota of 25% European and 10% Hungarian works. Public media must broadcast European works in over 60% and Hungarian works in over 50% of their air time and at least 15% of these works must be ordered from independent producers.
Radio stations must broadcast Hungarian musical works at least 35% of time, of which at least 25% should be less than 5 years old.
Complementing the above measures that protect Hungarian culture, at one point the Media Act promotes cultural diversity: “Linear media service providers with significant market power shall ensure that at least one quarter of the cinematographic works and film series originally produced in a language other than Hungarian, broadcast between 7 pm and 11 pm, shall be available in their original language, with Hungarian subtitles.”
Despite the advances of the Internet, about half of Hungarians still regularly watch television, especially the two leading commercial channels. The four channels of the national television network (this includes a sports channel) and a variety of thematic, movie and entertainment channels are lagging behind.