Hungary’s last independent radio station falls silent


At last it was a lonely critical voice on the radio ether with considerable range. Now Hungary’s media council, made up of supporters of Prime Minister Orban, has revoked the license for the club radio.

Accompanied by international criticism and concern, the Hungarian club radio was forced to cease broadcasting on Monday night. The government-dependent media authority had not renewed the broadcast license, which expired on February 15 at 00:00, for reasons that were difficult to understand. The last important independent radio station in the Central European EU country reached up to 500,000 listeners.

After the cessation of broadcasting operations, Klubradio can only offer its programs on the Internet. It should therefore reach far fewer people than before. Since the right-wing national premier Viktor Orban took office in 2010, the private broadcaster has been subject to regular repression by the media authority. Since then he has only been allowed to broadcast in the greater Budapest area.

Politically motivated license withdrawal

The media council, the executive body of the media authority, is made up exclusively of party members of the Orban government. Last September, the board no longer renewed the license for club radio. It justified its decision with two minor violations of the broadcaster’s reporting obligations, which at the time had been punished with small fines.

The media authority put the use of the FM 92.9 MHz radio frequency to tender. Klubradio applied again. Two previously unknown competitors submitted insufficient documents and were therefore excluded from the tender. One of the applicants complained against it in court, whereupon the authority suspended the licensing procedure.

Klubradio, for its part, had sued against the non-renewal of the broadcast license. However, the Budapest City Court did not uphold this lawsuit last Tuesday. The Administrative Senate agreed with the decision of the Media Council without a detailed examination of the legal basis.

EU threatens Hungary again with proceedings

Prime Minister Orban has come under international criticism because he has already brought large parts of the Hungarian media landscape under his control. The forced end to club radio triggered a new wave of objections and concerns.

The EU Commission demanded an interim solution for club radio on Saturday and threatened Hungary with infringement proceedings. “I would like to call on the Hungarian authorities to act urgently,” wrote the Director General Roberto Viola to the Hungarian EU ambassador, Tibor Stelbaczky. It is important to avoid “irreparable damage” to the club radio.

The US State Department wrote last Wednesday: “The US shares the concerns of international media watchdogs and many Hungarians about the decline of media freedom in Hungary.”

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