Hungary’s last independent public affairs radio forced off the waves

A protester holds a placard resembling the logo of private radio station Klubradio in a square near the Hungarian public service radio's headquarters in downtown Budapest, Hungary, 22 December 2011. Several thousand then gathered in the Hungarian capital Budapest to protest what they saw as the forced closure of a commercial radio station known for its critical stance towards the government. Two years later and after several court rulings in the radio's favour, the authorities backed down and awarded the station a seven-year broadcasting licence in 2013. [EPA/ZSOLT SZIGETVARY]

Klubrádió, the last independent radio broadcasting about public affairs issues in Hungary, will be forced to move online completely from next week after losing its court appeal against the national media council’s refusal to extend its licence on Tuesday (9 February).

The media council reasoned that Klubrádió has repeatedly violated the provisions of Hungary’s controversial media law — one of the first bills enacted after Fidesz came to power in 2010 and created the regulatory body — by missing deadlines to report about its content. The station pointed out that it has paid fines for these minor breaches.

The Budapest district court said on Tuesday (9 February) that the fact that Klubrádió has not appealed the two previous fines issued over a seven-year period served as grounds for denying the 92.9 MHz frequency license.

The International Press Institute (IPI) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), along with four other media watchdogs organisations, called on the EU to act.

“The European Union cannot stand by as the country’s biggest independent radio broadcaster is wiped off the airwaves,” they said in a statement last week.

“We call on the European Commission to immediately engage with the Hungarian government to find a solution which will allow Klubrádió to remain on the airwaves after 14 February, at least until the ongoing legal dispute over the tender is resolved.”

The Council of Europe human rights chief, Dunja Mijatović, tweeted that the ruling “seals the fate of Hungary’s last independent radio station.”

“Another silenced voice in Hungary. Another sad day for media freedom,” Mijatović added.

The radio was already forced off the airwaves once in 2011, when the media council refused to extend its license for two years despite several court rulings in Klubrádió’s favour.

However, the authority finally backed down amid public pressure and awarded the station a seven-year broadcasting licence in 2013.

András Arató, chairman of the board and majority owner of Klubrádió, said the station would appeal.

He called the outcome “not an unexpected but a cowardly decision, sad and anti-democratic”, Media1 reported.

The decision is the latest development demonstrating the shrinking space for independent voices in Hungary’s tightly-controlled media landscape.

Last July, 80 journalists resigned from the 90-odd member editorial team of Index, Hungary’s then-leading independent media outlet, after the ousting of its editor-in-chief in what was described as a devastating blow to the country’s free press and media plurality.

Mass resignations at Hungary's biggest news site as fallout from editor’s sacking continues

Nearly 60 journalists have resigned from the 90-member editorial team of Index, Hungary’s leading independent media outlet, in what is being described as a devastating blow to the country’s free press and media plurality. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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