I have been asked what I meant by saying I was allergic to the EU. It is simple, mention of the EU brings me out in a rash of cynicism which is bad for the soul, so I avoid the EU where possible. Unfortunately it is not always possible.
January 1st saw Hungary assume the rotating presidency of the EU. On the same day Hungary introduced laws designed to extend state control of the media. The coincidence led to an eruption of indignation on the part of EU politicians.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EC, boldly proclaimed “freedom of the press is a sacred principle.” The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the law “endangers editorial independence and media pluralism.”
Although economically fragile and in hoc to the EU the Hungarian government did not roll over at the intensity of foreign criticism. Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister, accused his Western critics of having double standards. “I defy anyone to find anything in our law that is not in other EU member states’ media laws.” He said he would be prepared to accept the EU’s ruling on the illegality or otherwise of the law, but he also said that if Hungary’s legislation had to be changed then so too would similar laws in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Have no doubt Hungary’s new laws are harsh, authoritarian and dangerous. They establishes a highly centralised media authority with oversight and regulation of all public media and news outlets. This can fine journalists for violating “public interest, public morals or order.” The new authority is composed entirely of bureaucrats linked to Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz. The dangers are obvious.
Of particular concern is that this new body is explicitly charged with moral policing. Yet, in recent years freedom speech has been compromised throughout Europe by morality based laws seeking to censor “hate speech”, Holocaust denial and incitement to violence. Pointing to these Western precedents, a Hungarian government statement asks: “Who would dispute that human dignity, the protection of privacy, the prohibition of hate speech or the protection of children are primary issues of public interest, based on which even the press can and should be restricted to a certain extent?”
The argument runs that given restrictions on free speech throughout the EU why shouldn’t Hungary have its own laws? The Netherlands, Britain, France, Germany etc have their own morally based censorship, why shouldn’t Hungary?
Also, in many EU nations such as Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, the people who make up media-supervisory authorities are government appointees, too.
The fact is that there is little about Hungary’s censorship laws which is specifically Hungarian. Apart from one thing. There is something quite old-fashioned and traditionalist in this project of policing moral evils. The first target of Hungary’s new media authority were “bad words” sung by the rapper Ice T. Hungary’s moral censors launched proceedings against a small, local radio station for playing two Ice T songs filled with his usual obscenities. The new media authority claimed that the lyrics of Ice T’s songs could adversely affect the moral development of listeners under the age of 16.
This concern with offensive words indicates the ascendancy of a new form of political correctness. And that is precisely what is so enraging our progressive political elites.
It is not censorship itself which enrages them, they do so much themselves. It is Orban’s determination to introduce an alternative form of moral policing that has provoked the wrath of Hungary’s EU partners. Brussels can live with censorship and encroachment on the freedom of speech – just so long as it is driven by its favoured progressive and multiculturalist ethos. It regards traditional forms of moralising as a direct threat to its own institutions.
Inadvertently, Hungary has reminded the EU that there is more than one side to the Culture Wars, and that political correctness takes many shapes and forms. In this confused dispute, those of a Christian based and traditionally liberal disposition must reject the moralising censorship of both sides.