Hungary: Trivial grounds used to strip Budapest radio station of its licence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the European Commission to investigate the independence of Hungary’s Media Council, which seems to have been following orders from the ruling Fidesz party when it refused to renew the operating licence of Klubrádió, Budapest’s last independent radio station, on trivial administrative grounds.
Anything goes when it comes to silencing independent media outlets in Hungary. In a letter sent to Klubrádió on 8 September, which the media has provided to RSF, the Media Council said it could not renew the radio station’s licence because it had not always “provided monthly data on programme quotas.”
According to the Media Council, between 2015 and 2017, Klubrádió failed several times to certify that it was complying with legal programme quotas stipulating how much airtime broadcasters must allocate to Hungarian music and how much to international music. As a result, its licence will expire on 14 February 2021.
The Media Council says such “repeated violation” of the media law twice in a year is sufficiently serious to constitute “an objective reason for ruling out renewal” – an argument rejected by Klubrádió, especially as it paid the approximately 100-euro fine that was demanded for each of these violations and fulfilled the programme quotas themselves. In the past, such repeated violations were not grounds for suspending other medias’ broadcasting licences, which amounts to the discrimination of Klubrádió.
A radio station with a reputation for outspoken and humorous criticism of the government, Klubrádió already had its licence suspended in 2013. It was given a new, seven-year licence the following year – under pressure from its listeners – although it was limited to the Hungarian capital. If Klubrádió fails to win when its frequency is put up to bid, it will have to pass from Budapest to… the internet.
“By taking a decision with such drastic consequences on such flimsy legal grounds, the Media Council is acting as if it was taking orders from the ruling party, Fidesz,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “The new bidding process for Klubrádió’s frequency, which the Media Council is going to organize, must be conducted in a transparent and apolitical manner. The European Commission, for its part, must investigate the Media Council’s independence under the revised EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive.”
The Media Council’s independence was already formally guaranteed in Hungarian legislation before the EU directive was transposed into Hungarian law in 2019, but its composition is politicized. When renewing the Media Council last December, parliament rejected all of the opposition candidates and elected only Fidesz nominees to the four vacant positions.
Hungary is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.