In spite of reports that the press is now virtually free every where behind what was once the Iron Curtain, members of the International Press Institute meeting in Budapest, Hungary, May 18-20, expressed alarm at new dangers threatening that freedom.
They found that new government leaders "are trying to limit press and electronic media criticism in many ways ranging from press control laws to restricting printing or newsprint availability, and pressure on personnel selection."
In a formal resolution, IPI members "encouraged new leaders to make the break from communist dictatorship irreversible by keeping the press totally free. An impartial watchdog role for the press is a key element in building democratic government."
IPI urged political leaders in these countries to show maturity by accepting such a role for the press, since the new governments would finally be judged on how well they handled full freedom of political expression.
As iff to provide an example, within a few hours after IPI members had considered and adopted that resolution, Hungarian President Arpad Goncz at the institute's final banquet gave some insight into the debate which has been raging in Budapest for two years over a new media bill.
"When the political changes were in the making," he said, "the press, kept on a short leash before, used the very first opportunity to seek its own voice and thus became an important element in the process of political change, although with relatively little influence on changes in great power relations and their consequences on internal politics. In seeking its own voice, it also had to cope with the difficulties arising from misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Therefore, practically all the newspapers and other media wanted to be independent in the first place; in dependent from the will of the party state to guide them.
"However, it quickly became evident that the unity stemming from the opposition status fades away as soon as the question of the freedom of the press arises, interpreted in different ways and leading to a situation in which the press shows a colorful picture, expressing the different opinions and interests emerging in society. We now have a great variety of dailies and periodicals including regional publications formerly missing but entering the scene in growing numbers...
"Monopoly of the press has been eliminated and anyone can found a newspaper now, regardless of his party affiliation or political conviction, the framework of the constitution being the only limiting factor. No democratic state governed by the rule of law can afford to tolerate the dissemination of extremist views, left or right, and so these views are not offered room in our country.
"The freedom of expression has quickly taken root and become accepted. One should also be aware that the free formulation of opinions is contingent upon the freedom of accepting the opinions of others: We must strike the necessary balance between formulating our opinions and sharing those of others. …