, BUDAPEST, Apr 12 – The head of Hungary’s media council, much-criticised as a government tool to gag journalists, has died aged 51 after a long illness, her office announced Friday.
Annamaria Szalai was appointed Hungary’s media czar by close ally Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2010, a year in which parliament passed a raft of controversial media laws which saw thousands take to the streets in protest.
“After a long illness which she suffered with dignity, Annamaria Szalai, president of the Media Council and of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority has died,” the authority (NMHH) said in a statement.
Szalai, a member of the Fidesz ruling party since 1991, had been appointed for nine years — far beyond the government’s mandate.
Among the Council’s most controversial moves was a prolonged legal spat with opposition radio station Klubradio, which it refused to allow to broadcast on a certain frequency. The council eventually conceded defeat last month after a court decision.
On Thursday however, the body opened a probe into a pro-government newspaper’s publication of anti-Roma comments by a columnist.
Amid criticism from the European Union and Council of Europe, Hungary amended its media laws, although rights bodies said they still failed to address their concerns .
Human Right Watch last year said Hungary’s clampdown on media freedom merited EU intervention and that laws requiring “balanced” reporting, had “a chilling effect on investigative journalism and leads to self-censorship.”
Media reports said Szalai worked from hospital up until the last moment.