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Gov’t-Critical Klubrádió to Return On-Air After Uncontested Frequency Bid?

Hungary Today 2021.02.17.

Shortly after Klubrádió went off the air, Hungary’s media regulator continued the bid for the frequency. As Klubrádió is the only applicant in the process, this means the broadcaster has a chance to receive its license again.

Hungary’s Media Authority (NMHH) did not renew the frequency license of Klubrádió last September, quoting legal exclusion as the radio “repeatedly violated” the provisions of the applicable law. Instead, it issued a new tender for the frequency. In addition to Klubrádió, two other applicants appeared, including LBK Médiaszolgáltató 2020 Kft., a company owned by a lawyer close to ruling Fidesz.

However, later all applicants except Klubrádió were excluded from the process, a decision LBK challenged in court, which led the authority to suspend the entire frequency tender.

Gov't-Critical Klubrádió Goes Off Air from Sunday Midnight
Gov't-Critical Klubrádió Goes Off Air from Sunday Midnight

The last government-critical radio station, Klubrádió, switched off analog broadcasting at Sunday midnight and continues airing online. The Media Authority’s decision, followed by a court ruling, generated uproar and debates, and will probably remain on the agenda for a long time.  Klubrádió signed off by replaying part of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the […]Continue reading

As a result, Klubrádió was no longer entitled to use the frequency, but in the absence of a successful tender, it was also unable to acquire a new frequency license either.

After the court dismissed the radio’s appeal in early February declaring the authority’s decision legal of refusing the renewal of the radio’s frequency license, it became clear the broadcaster would be forced to continue its work exclusively online.

But two days after gov’t-critical Klubrádió went off the air, Hungary’s Media Authority decided to continue to accept bids for the frequency which had been used by the government-critical broadcaster. By continuing the application process- as Klubrádió remained the only applicant – it also means should the Media Authority accept the required corrections and then green light the tender itself, Klubrádió may be able to receive its frequency license again.

Klubrádió: Media Council's Procedure 'Unlawful, Discriminative'
Klubrádió: Media Council's Procedure 'Unlawful, Discriminative'

The Hungarian media authority’s Media Council has stripped commercial Klubrádió of its frequency “unlawfully and discriminatively”, while it granted another seven-year licence to other broadcasters, Klubrádió said on Friday, in response to a recent statement by the council head. The document published by Media Council chief Mónika Karas on Thursday “hardly contains a statement of […]Continue reading

Gábor Pataki, the editor-in-chief of Klubrádió, told news site Telex that they were surprised by the news, adding that the continuation does not mean that the decision of the Media Authority will be made soon, so it would be too early to celebrate.

Outcry rolls on

The story generated domestic and international uproar as many viewed the developments as yet another attack on Hungary’s media freedom by the Orbán government.

Liberal Momentum MEP Anna Donáth even initiated the implementation of the rule of law mechanism adopted at the end of last year in an attempt “…to protect Klubrádió and Hungarian press freedom.”

As Azonnali, a portal part-owned by centrist green LMP MP Péter Ungár points out, the procedure is not applicable in symbolic cases like this. The mechanism can only sanction violations of the rule of law that directly harm or seriously jeopardize the financial interests of the EU or its efficient and effective financial management. Thus, it is unclear what the Momentum politician could achieve with this initiative.

In reaction to Donáth’s move, Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch commented on social media: “…just because someone is leftist they are not above the law, those times are once and for all over.”

Media Council Head on Klubrádió Case: 'I Believe in the Rule of Law'
Media Council Head on Klubrádió Case: 'I Believe in the Rule of Law'

The head of Hungary’s Media Council on Thursday defended a decision not to extend the broadcast licence of opposition-leaning Klubrádió, saying the country’s top media authority “did not take the frequency away” from the station and it would still have a chance to operate in the future. In a statement, Monika Karas denied that the […]Continue reading

The operators of the “left-wing propaganda radio are not above the law either,” he added.

“According to the decisions of the independent Media Authority (which were never appealed by Klubrádió, by default acknowledging the truth of the matter), the radio violated the media law six times,” Deutsch stated.

Story with strange similarities to Klubrádió’s license emerges

A few days ago a well-known name in the Hungarian media, László Bodolai, told an interesting story in an interview, which, if true, also suggests that the Media Authority makes decisions based on political commands.

Bodolai is the former presenter of another government-critical broadcaster, Tilos Rádió, and the former chairman of the management board of Index.hu Zrt., the publisher of Hungary’s leading news outlet. Index made it to the news last year when its editor-in-chief was fired just weeks after he said its independence was “in danger” allegedly due to the appearance of ruling Fidesz business circles around it and Bodolai was accused of being involved with those circles.

In the interview, Bodolai says a few years ago he asked for help from a “contact” close to the government to not take away the frequency license of Tilos Rádió. Bodolai was assured the application would first be rejected but then after the corrections, everything would be fine. What the unnamed person told Bodolai reflected the reality: Tilos Rádió was about to lose its frequency but after sending in the corrections, the radio indeed received its frequency license in 2015.

Later, news site Media1 asked the Media Authority to confirm Bodolai’s story. The regulator however responded that “The Authority does not comment on anecdotes. In all cases, the Media Authority acts on the basis of the legal acts in force, its decisions are public, and an appeal may be lodged against them. “

Featured photo via Klubrádió’s Facebook page