Hungary: Critical radio may lose license; watchdog concerned

September 11, 2020 GMT

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, the continent’s democracy watchdog, on Friday expressed her concerns about a decision by Hungarian media authorities not to renew the broadcast license of a radio station which often airs views critical of the government.

Dunja Mijatovic tweeted that the decision by Hungary’s Media Council “is a further illustration of the pressure on independent media” and that she would continue to raise media freedom issues with the Hungarian government.

“Plurality of media voices must be preserved in democracies,” Mijatovic tweeted. Between 2010 and 2016, she served as the Representative on Freedom of the Media at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Klubradio has been in the crosshairs of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government since his return to power in 2010 and the station had to win numerous lawsuits against the media authorities before receiving a seven-year permit which expires in February. Klubradio used to have national reach, but media authorities stripped it of its regional licenses and it currently broadcasts only in Budapest, the capital.

The Media Council said that it wouldn’t automatically renew Klubradio’s license because of numerous — but unspecified — irregularities, and the broadcaster will have to compete with other companies if it wants to continue using the 92.7 FM frequency.

The radio said in an article on its website that the Media Council “had no reason which could be taken seriously or was legally significant” for rejecting the extension of Klubradio’s licence.

“Klubradio has no intention of accepting that they want to silence it,” the station said. “It will use every means possible to fight the Media Council decision in this regard.”

Issues related to the freedom of the press, including the government’s distortion of the media market through the allocation of huge state advertising contracts to outlets under its control and the formation in 2018 of huge government-controlled media conglomerate encompassing around 500 publications — including newspapers, cable TV stations, radios and news websites — are among the main reasons Orban’s government is facing European Union proceedings related to concerns about democratic norms and the rule of law.

Like many other top institutions in Hungary, the Media Council is composed of members nominated solely by the government and over the years it has made many disputed decisions in matters under its competence while at the same time failing to meet its objectives of protecting media plurality and an open and fair media market.