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On Thursday, Hungary’s media authority (NMHH) swept Klubrádió’s bid off the table for the 92.9 MHz frequency, formerly used by one of the last widely-available, government-critical radio stations in Hungary, without declaring a recipient. According to the head of the radio station, the decision is “cowardly, vile, and illegal,” while media watchdog IPI says Fidesz is controlling the authority and urges the European Commission’s intervention.

Klubrádió had to stop analog broadcasting in mid-February after a Budapest court rejected an appeal by the station against a decision by Hungary’s media authority (NMHH). NMHH’s Media Council (consisting exclusively of ruling Fidesz-delegated members) announced in 2020 not to renew Klubrádió’s license, pointing to six violations of the Media Act during the radio’s last ten years of operation.

Klubrádió, on the other hand, points to unfair dealings and political motivation. They insist that only minor administrative irregularities were found for which they paid fines at the time. They also point to the fact that the Media Council granted a license to other broadcasters with “the same antecedents.”

Many in fact have suggested political motivation behind Klubrádió being forced off the air as the station has been long known for its government-critical stances. As a matter of fact, it was one of the very last publicly available radio stations not under the government’s influence.

Klubrádió was the only applicant for the 92.9 MHz frequency. Since the media council has the sole power to decide when to reopen the tender, it is unkown when Klubrádió will have a chance to reapply for the frequency.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s debate about the Hungarian media took place on Thursday, focusing on Klubrádió’s case. Klubrádió’s president claimed that the decision regarding the tender was finalized on Wednesday but not announced until the next day in order to avoid direct attention and criticism during the plenary. During the debate, Fidesz officials called the outrage around Klubrádió “hysteria,” and stated that it has every chance to make it back on the airways.

Opposition Decries "The End of Media Plurality" in EP Debate
Opposition Decries

Hungarian MEPs were divided in their views on the state of media freedom in Hungary in a European Parliamentary debate on Wednesday, with ruling Fidesz slamming what it calls a “smear campaign” against the government, and the opposition decrying “the end of media plurality” in the country. Addressing the debate on the state of media […]Continue reading

Media Authority points to the law

The Media Council of Hungary’s National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) stated that Klubrádió’s offer was rejected for failing to comply with several requirements, and under Hungary’s media law and the principle of equal treatment, it could not overlook the errors in the bid.

Citing public company records, they argued that because the station had a history of “illicit business operations,” a petition for the compulsory termination of the company could be launched at any time under the corporate regulations in force.

The council also claimed to have pointed out several errors in Klubrádió’s program plan. It said the plan failed to comply with “the fundamental requirements of radio broadcasting” and contained anomalies which “cannot be accepted in the case of any bid.”

Klubrádió: “absurdity, vileness, cowardice”

Klubrádió, on the other hand, doubts the legitimacy of these arguments and suggests it is a political move just one year before the general elections.” An infinitely vile, cowardly, and illegal decision” has been made, Klubrádió’s president commented. “I can’t be surprised anymore at anything, everything could be expected. Rule of law in Hungary has long been destroyed, so supposing that something would be done justly here is rather naive,” András Arató told Telex.

He explained to the International Press Institute (IPI) that NMHH had found three main reasons to deny the bid. The first two were minor errors in application documents: one about a minor program repetition, and another about a show accidently being specified as 45 minutes long rather than 50.

The third error was the negative balance books. Media Council said that Klubrádió’s “precarious and illegal economic situation” meant it was not suitable to hold the frequency. Now, this last justification is especially outrageous given that the financial difficulties faced by Klubrádió are in part the result of a state campaign over the past decade to weaken the economic position of independent media, Arató said. State-controlled companies and ad agencies controlled by Fidesz loyalists or allies of the ruling party have systematically withdrawn advertising from the station, slowly starving it of resources. This policy has meant that for many years Klubrádió has survived predominantly through donations from listeners and supporters, he claimed.

Arató also claims that ‘positive balance books’ wasn’t a condition, and accusing a radio in operation for twenty years now that its business plan was unrealistic, is really unrealistic,” he said.

IPI angered and wants EU intervention 

Media watchdog International Press Institute (IPI) is outraged, condemning the “latest politically-motivated decision by the media council,” and blames Fidesz influence and wants the European Commission’s intervention.

“This latest arbitrary decision by the captured media regulator in Hungary shows the lengths to which the Hungarian authorities will go to ensure Klubrádió is blocked from returning to the airwaves before the 2022 elections,” IPI Deputy Director said. “Today’s ruling reveals the true function of this nominally independent media council: a captive body which is being used as an instrument of the governing Fidesz party to destroy the few independent media that remain in Hungary.”

Orbán Critic Iványi's Small Church Turns to Supreme Court After Gigantic State Fine
Orbán Critic Iványi's Small Church Turns to Supreme Court After Gigantic State Fine

Gábor Iványi’s Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET) is turning to the Supreme Court (Kúria) after the Tax Authority (NAV) debited their tax account due to owed payments. MET says they haven’t received the state subsidies they would be entitled to, hence they couldn’t pay their taxes and bills, while this recent ruling endangers their daily, mostly […]Continue reading

“The European Commission needs to take effective action and robustly defend fundamental rights,” Scott Griffen also said.

Klubrádió now has 15 days to challenge the decision. Arató, however, is rather pessimistic, claiming that it would be the same court to decide the case which had previously rejected their appeal with a “one minute justification,” and by now have apparently “lost (their) freedom from political influence.”

featured image: András Arató in 2012; via Tamás Kovács/MTI