M&C, Jan 31, 2011, 17:30 GMT
Brussels/Budapest - Hungary signaled to the European Union's executive it was ready to end a row over its controversial media law by tweaking its provisions, official documents showed on Monday.
The international controversy over Budapest's media law has clouded Hungary's debut at the EU's rotating presidency, and has drawn attention to supposedly authoritarian tendencies in Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.
Earlier this month, the European Commission asked Hungary to clarify three aspects of the legislation, warning it suspected that it breached technical EU media rules as well as fundamental principles on freedom of expression.
In Hungary's reply on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics offered counter-arguments in defence of the law, but still offered to change it if the EU executive remained unconvinced.
'If the commission, despite our arguments set forth in this letter, still deems it necessary to amend the Hungarian regulation with respect to the problems highlighted, we are prepared to commence drafting these modifications in the directions described above,' Navracsics wrote.
A copy of his letter was seen by the German Press Agency dpa.
In Brussels, Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi confirmed his country's conciliatory stance.
'The necessary adjustments will be made and I'm absolutely convinced that a solution acceptable for everyone will now be found,' he told reporters.
In a letter dated January 21, EU commissioner for digital affairs Neelie Kroes had given Hungary two weeks to answer 'serious doubts' over the media law.
Among three points highlighted in the letter was the obligation for all news media - including the printed press and websites - to register with the state authorities.
Navracsics countered that 'registration is in no way a restriction of press freedom,' simply a means for the media authority to identify the firms in its purview.
News services are also obliged to provide 'balanced' coverage - a provision that Kroes described as 'leaving rather large room for interpretation.'
Hungary said it was ready to clarify that that provision applied to commercial media only, excluding outlets such as private bloggers, and indicated that there were no financial penalties foreseen for breaches of the rule.
Kroes also expressed concern over the fact that the law appears to apply not only to domestic media outlets, but also those based abroad that serve Hungary, which could be in contravention of EU rules on country of origin.
The Hungarian minister disagreed, but said that his government would amend the clause if the EU executive could provide supplementary evidence.
The commissioner, however, chose not to pick a fight over the make up of Hungary's media watchdog, despite having previously questioned its independence, because she recognized that the EU had no competence over the issue.
Members of the Media Council - who have the power to impose steep fines on offending media - were appointed by Hungary's parliament, where the governing centre-right coalition supporting Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a two-third majority.
Speaking as he chaired a meeting of EU affairs ministers in Brussels, Martonyi felt it necessary to reassure EU peers about Hungary's democratic credentials.
'My country is fully and entirely committed to the respect of all (of the EU's) values, principles and freedoms,' he said, during broadcasted session of the talks.