Hungary’s new advertising tax is a politically motivated attempt to drive RTL out of the country’s market and is a threat to media freedom in the country, according to EC vice-president Neelie Kroes.
In an outspoken blog post condemning the Hungarian government’s imposition of the law, which imposes a punitive tax rate on advertising on commercial broadcasters, Kroes said the measure “disproportionately affects one single media company, RTL”, which is the only company that would, according to its own calculations, face the highest rate of tax, resulting in significant losses and “putting in jeopardy their ability to operate”.
Kroes said that the move is clearly politically motivated and designed to see off the only significant media outlet that does not follow the line of the ruling Fidesz party. “RTL is one of the few channels in Hungary not simply promoting a pro-Fidesz line; it is hard to see that the goal is anything other than to drive them out of Hungary. The Hungarian Government does not want a neutral, foreign-owned broadcaster in Hungary; it is using an unfair tax to wipe out democratic safeguards, and see off a perceived challenge to its power,” she said.
Kroes said that the advertising law follows a pattern, citing the country’s 2010 media law, which gave a body “subject to political interference” huge powers over Hungarian media, “breaching the Hungarian constitution and EU law and jeopardising fundamental rights”.
She said that undermining and silencing media freedom and debate “is an attack on Hungarian democracy”.
Kroes said there is a need for Europeans to take action to ensure “a free and plural media” in Hungary and in countries including Bulgaria, Italy and the UK and commended a recent report on possible measures by a group chaired by former Latvian president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga.