Hungary media watchdog probes anti-Roma slur

Hungary's media regulator said Thursday it had launched a probe into a pro-government newspaper's publication of comments by a columnist, Zsolt Bayer, describing the Roma minority as "animals".

"The Media Council has launched an inquiry against the [Magyar Hirlap] newspaper as one of its articles appears to violate the sections of the 2010 media law pertaining to press freedom and media content," Karola Kiricsi, spokesperson for the regulator, told AFP on Thursday.

Following a stabbing incident involving young Roma men, Bayer, a prominent rightwing journalist close to conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban and one of the original founders of the governing Fidesz party, wrote: "Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals."

"They shouldn't be tolerated or understood, but avenged. Animals should not exist. In no way," he said.

The probe follows a complaint about the article lodged on February 7 by the Office for the Protection of National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), a non-governmental organisation.

According to Erika Muhi, NEKI's director, Bayer broke a media law against published statements and opinions inciting hatred against a segment of society on ethnic, national, linguistic, or religious grounds.

"We are very happy the Media Council has launched the enquiry, and hope that Magyar Hirlap is suitably punished," Muhi told AFP.

After the remarks sparked protests in Hungary and abroad Bayer said his comments were "deliberately misinterpreted".

"I don't want to liquidate gypsies, neither a part of them, nor a single one," he said.

"I want order, I want every respectable Gypsy to be happy in this country and every Gypsy who is incapable of and unsuitable for living together to be excluded from society," he added.

The Roma people, also called Gypsies though many can consider that term pejorative, are a minority in several eastern European countries, including Hungary.