Hungarians attend a demonstration against the government's new media law in Budapest. Under the law, which took effect on January 1, a new media authority dominated by appointees of the ruling Fidesz party will oversee all public news production.

Budapest - Tens of thousands of people on Tuesday protested Hungary's new media law, which critics fear will be used to restrict press freedoms despite recent amendments to make it compatible with European Union rules.

Organisers said the event was Hungary's largest protest by civic groups since the 1989 start of the democratic process that ended the communist regime.

The media law - which greatly expands state oversight of print and Internet media and centralises state media news production, as well as permits large fines - was amended by Hungarian lawmakers last week after objections from the EU.

The adjustments set new limits on the jurisdiction of Hungarian regulators over media based outside Hungary, redefined the obligation of balanced coverage and eased - but did not eliminate - registration requirements for all media.

The government have said the changes, agreed with EU Digital Affairs Commissioner Neelie Kroes, were merely technical.

The widespread international criticism of the law has overshadowed Hungary's turn in the six month, rotating EU presidency that started in January.

Watchdogs have continued to call for more revisions.

“Hungary's revised media law still falls far short of international standards,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said. “Content restrictions remain in place... As EU leader, Hungary must do much more.”

Similar concerns were expressed by the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“The legislation can still be misused to curb alternative and differing voices in Hungary,” said Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on media freedom.

Among the law's continuing shortcomings, Mijatovic mentioned the high fines which can be dispensed against publishers and editors on loosely defined grounds and the failure “to guarantee the political independence of public service media”.

The keynote speaker at Tuesday's rally, Polish newspaper editor and former dissident Adam Michnik, complimented Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government for its “willingness to compromise” on making changes to the media law, but said it wasn't possible to speak about freedom in a country where creative liberties were at risk.

“We have to defend our hard-fought freedoms,” Michnik said. “There is no place for censorship in this system.” - Sapa-AP