European Union asks Hungary to keep liberal radio on air

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The European Union’s executive is urging Hungary’s government to allow a liberal-leaning radio station to continue broadcasting after it went off the air Monday following a refusal by media authorities to extend its broadcast license.

During an online press conference of the European Commission on Monday, spokesman Christian Wigand confirmed the Commission had sent a letter to Hungary’s permanent representation in Brussels on Friday expressing concerns over Klubradio, a commercial broadcaster in the capital of Budapest which went off the air on Monday after a capital court upheld a decision by Hungary’s Media Council not to extend its license.

Wigand said the station’s loss of its broadcasting frequency had occurred “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds,” and that Hungary “should respect the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, information and the freedom to conduct a business.”

The Commission has asked Hungary to take urgent action to ensure that Klubradio can continue using its frequency until final decisions become legally binding, Wigand said, warning of “irreparable damage” to the station.

Hungary has not yet sent an answer to the Commission’s letter, he added.

The loss of Klubradio’s broadcasting license reinvigorated a debate over freedom of the press and outsized political influence in Hungary’s media market. The station was one of the last radio channels in Hungary that regularly featured opposition politicians and other critical voices during its news and talk programs, something critics of the government say led to discriminatory decisions by the court and the Media Council.

Klubradio CEO and director Andras Arato called last week’s court verdict “shameful,” and told The Associated Press that the company plans to appeal at Hungary’s highest court, the Curia.

“We are witnesses to a verdict that serves an endlessly cowardly, anti-democratic, illiberal system. It is not a surprise, but it is still sad,” Arato said.

Hungary’s media regulator — which referred to repeated infractions of media law by the broadcaster in denying its license extension — insists that it acted lawfully, and rejected accusations of political bias. President of the Media Council, Monika Karas, said last week: “The Council measures all radio stations by the same standard, and did not use either positive or negative discrimination in the case of Klubradio.”

The European Union has launched infringement proceedings against Hungary for what it says are violations of the rule of law and other core EU values, and the Commission’s spokesman last week said further action could be taken against the country if the Commission finds that Klubradio was silenced unlawfully.

“One of the foundations of European democracy is media freedom and pluralism. We will not hesitate to take the appropriate steps if this is possible and necessary,” Wigand said.