Ruling Fidesz pushes through Parliament political billboard bill with simple majority

Hungary's Parliament passed an amendment tightening regulations on political billboard Advertising. It replaces a law on banning political billboard ads outside campaign periods that President János Áder returned to lawmakers for reconsideration. The "amendment on the protection of cityscapes", which only needed a simple majority to pass, was approved with 123 votes for and 68 against.

Accordingly, organisations that receive budgetary support must pay the listed market price for political billboard adverts. Further, contracts on placing such adverts must be submitted to the relevant authority to be published on its website.
The adopted bill's most important regulations are:

  • Organizations and legal persons, including political parties that receive grants from the state budget can only advertise for previous year's list prices, preferential rates can only be achieved through public tendering.
  • Contracts of billboards must be immediately sent by the contracting parties to the affected authorities, who publish it on their websites.
  • Should the parties fail to hand over their contracts, authorities can remove the billboard within two days.
  • Violators can be fined HUF 150,000 (USD 541.95) per billboard.
  • Political billboards with already signed contracts can only be set up until 15 July this year.

The law does not apply to NGOs, so Fidesz's satellite Civil Unity Forum (CÖF) can continue to conduct political billboard campaigns ordered by the government.
Last week the governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition failed to muster the two-thirds parliamentary support for the bill that prohibits political parties, primarily the radical-right Jobbik, from running political billboard campaigns outside of official election campaign periods. Since the bill was incomprehensible shorn of the parts that require two-thirds support, President János Áder sent it back to the National Assembly for amendment. With the death of Christian-Democrat (KDNP) MP György Rubovszky and the absence of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who is in Brussels, the governing coalition was sure to fail a second time in securing a two-thirds majority. To bypass the two-thirds obligation, Fidesz resourcefully placed the regulations into a modification of the law protecting settlements, which needs only a relative majority.

Although the governing coalition easily passed the bill this time, it is hardly constitutional since modifications affecting parties' finances can only be adopted with a two-thirds majority, according to The bill adopted on Friday undoubtedly affects the areas of party financing and political advertisements. Leader of Fidesz's parliamentary group Lajos Kósa spoke earlier openly about the political nature of the bill, namely that it is aimed to tackle corruption among political parties. Other Fidesz politicians openly spoke about how the bill targets Jobbik.

President Áder will have to choose whether to sign the law into effect or send it to the Constitutional Court for review. Even if Áder signs the law, it can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. However, until the Constitutional Court makes its verdict, the law will stay in effect, hindering Jobbik's and other opposition parties' ability to run billboard campaigns before the campaign period. The radical-right Jobbik and the green liberal Dialogue for Hungary (PM) parties already announced that they will appeal to the Constitutional Court, regardless of what Áder decides.

Fidesz included in the adopted bill some of the Socialist Party's (MSZP) proposed modifications that had already been withdrawn at the insistence of László Botka, MSZP candidate for prime minister, in order to avoid the appearance of collaborating with Fidesz.

At the same time, left-wing daily Népszava wanted to know how many times the government purchased advertising spaces at preferential rates, how much such spaces cost, and exactly what the government advertised. The daily online also wanted to know whether the government asked for a discount, or was offered a preferential price by advertising space owners, and if so, what the justification for the government's request or the owners' offer was.

According to the left-wing daily, the fact that it did not receive answers to its questions leads to the conclusion that neither the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister nor Fidesz is refuting claims that the government received advertising spaces for free or at a discount.

Meanwhile, leader of Fidesz's parliamentary group Lajos Kósa told pro-government TV2's Mokka morning program that he had compared the public reports of the advertising expenditures of Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and the radical-right Jobbik party, and found that LMP paid much more for an advertising space than Jobbik, implying that businessman and billboard owner Lajos Simicska provided such space for Jobbik at a preferential price.

Last week the governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition failed to muster the two-thirds parliamentary support for a bill that would have prohibited political parties from setting up political billboards outside election campaign periods. The bill was aimed primarily against extremist Jobbik, which has been renting hundreds of billboards from Simicska for its Fidesz-bashing billboard campaign, allegedly at preferential rates.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 June 2017 14:33