RSF urges Hungarian regulator to avoid dealing new blow to media pluralism
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the time being taken by Hungary’s Media Council to issue a new licence to Tilos Rádió, a Budapest-based independent community radio station whose broadcasting permit expired on 3 September. The Media Council – Hungary’s media regulator – must reach a duly justified decision as soon as possible, RSF says.
“Ever since his return to power as Hungary’s prime minister in 2010, Viktor Orbán has dramatically reduced the proportion of independent media outlets by various means including manipulating the Media Council. Silencing Tilos Rádió would deal yet another blow to media pluralism. We call on Hungary’s media regulator to take a decision on this radio station’s licence quickly and in accordance with the legislation in effect.
The Budapest 90.3 MHz frequency has been silent since midnight on 4 September. Tilos Rádió had been using it for the past 19 years but had to stop because its licence expired. The station is now only broadcasting online. It was during an event held to celebrate the station’s 31st anniversary that director Gábor Csabai announced the end of FM broadcasting. He also announced his retirement because, he said, the next chapter for Tilos Rádió required a new director.
Following the Media Council’s decision to use minor administrative irregularities as grounds for refusing to renew Tilos Rádió’s licence on 12 April, the radio station had to participate in a competitive bidding for the frequency on 15 August. When RSF asked who else submitted a bid, the Media Council replied that the only bid received was Tilos Rádió’s. So, the regulator did not have to choose between several applicants. It just had to decide whether Tilos Rádió’s application was acceptable.
The pernickety Media Council examined Tilos Cultural Foundation’s application on 30 August and decided it was unacceptable because one of the questions on the form, about the station’s signature jingle, was left unanswered. The Foundation left it blank instead of explaining that Tilos Rádió has not had any jingle since its creation 31 years ago. Gábor Orbán, who took over as director after Csabai’s departure, told RSF that a revised version of the application was submitted on 7 September.
When asked by RSF about the time being taken to issue the licence, the Media Council replied that, under Section 51 (2) of the media services and mass communications law, it has 120 days to issue its decision. The Council also pointed out that the radio station chose not to request a provisional licence that would have allowed it to continue terrestrial broadcasting pending a final decision. Tilos Rádió explained to RSF that it had decided to focus on getting a broadcast licence for the next ten years.
The Media Council’s strategy with Tilos Rádió seems to be akin to the one it used to strip Klubrádió of its licence in February 2021, which led to a European Commission complaint to the Court of Justice of the European Union over Hungary’s failure to comply with EU electronic communications rules.
Hungary is ranked 85th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index