Deutsche Telekom's Hungarian business, Magyar Telekom, faced the loss of the bulk of its government contracts after it withdrew its backing for a local pop star following apparently derogatory comments about women.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said all of the nation's ministries had been told to cancel contracts with Magyar Telekom because the operator's decision to end its sponsorship of singer Ákos Kovács was unconstitutional, Hungary Today reported.
Z. Kovács explained the government's order to its ministries mainly affects mobile internet contracts and would not impact a broader partnership between Magyar Telekom and the government, the newspaper added.
The decision affects an estimated 103 contracts, the Budapest Business Journal reported.
Magyar Telekom dropped the singer after he said that women should not earn equal amounts to men, and that the role of women in society was to be mothers, Hungary Today explained.
Hungary's government said the decision is unconstitutional because it infringes on citizens' right to free speech, explained Antal Rogán, leader of the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister, the Budapest Business Journal said in a related report that cited an article by Hungarian daily origo.hu.
Rogán explained that the government's move was more symbolic than financial in nature, because it would not cause a significant loss of income for the telecoms company, the Budapest Business Journal continued. Instead, the decision to end the contracts was a shot across the bows of Magyar Telekom parent Deutsche Telekom designed to show the company that it could not act with impunity.
In an official statement, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the government has an obligation to ensure citizens have an opportunity to express their opinions, even if others disagree with their views. "This case is about freedom of expression," he said, adding that the sponsorship decision "may seem minor, but it raises important questions of principle and of a constitutional nature."
Opposition parties rallied to Deutsche Telekom's aid. The Együtt party noted that the company is privately owned and therefore has a right to decide on sponsorship deals itself, while the Liberal Party said the government's decision was based on the fact that Ákos was a personal favourite of Orbán, Hungary Today reported.
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