Hungary’s Media Authority’s (NMHH) Media Council provided Spirit FM a temporary license for the 92.9 frequency, the one for which Klubrádió’s bid had previously been controversially denied. While Spirit FM vows to air government-critical opinions, the decision once again raised controversy and Klubrádió suggests a private deal with the ruling forces.
As we previously reported, the last government-critical radio station in Hungary, Klubrádió, had to suspend analog broadcasting (since continued on the internet) from February 14th after a court rejected their appeal against a decision by media authority NMHH, which consists of only Fidesz-delegated members.
In March, NMHH once again swept Klubrádió’s bid off the table for the frequency, despite being the only relevant bidder, something that Klubrádió labeled a “cowardly, vile, and illegal” decision, and which they challenged legally.
In the latest and unforeseen turn, despite that the proceeding is still to be concluded, NMHH decided to provide Spirit FM with the frequency’s temporary license (to expire at the end of October).
Up until now, Spirit FM occupied Budapest-Downtown’s 87.6 MHz (involving a considerably smaller reach than that of the 92.9 frequency). Important to note too, that Spirit FM had previously applied for the 92.9 frequency; however, they failed to procure it at an earlier stage.
Spirit FM has been operating since September 2019 and is run by the liberal-leaning, gov’t-critical TV channel ATV-maintainer ATV group, which due to its complex ownership, is regularly suspected of cooperating with or at least being in a mutually-beneficial agreement with the government. ATV is owned by companies belonging to Sándor Németh’s charismatic religious community Church of Faith’s portfolio, which has developed good ties with the government over time. Both Spirit FM’s maintainer association and ATV itself is directed by the influential religious leader’s son, Szilárd Németh S.
Underground deal with the government?
Somewhat less surprisingly, Klubrádió officials were angered once again and are accusing NMHH to have acted unlawfully, as the frequency is still a matter of an ongoing lawsuit. According to their statement, NMHH’s Media Council “thumbed its nose to fairness,” “rewarded a media group dear to the government with a frequency under lawsuit,” and once again ignored the radio’s “stable, hundreds of thousands of listeners base built up over twenty years.”
In addition, Klubrádió suggests that an underground deal between the government and ATV Group has been made. Their statement concludes by claiming that “the dismantling of rule of law and media freedom in Hungary continues uninterruptedly” during the coronavirus crisis.
Spirit FM, on the other hand, argues that their aim was to make sure that opposition voices and opinions will be given ground too before the general elections (to be held roughly one year later), and without their bid, this wouldn’t have been ensured. They say their move to the new frequency also involves a significant financial burden, as they must now pay a hefty frequency fee since they could only obtain the license as a commercial radio station (while previously they were operating as a community one).