Residents of Budapest staged a big rally on Sunday on behalf of Klub Radio [Klubrádió], which brands itself as “the only talk & news radio station in Hungary with a scrutinizing attitude towards government and social issues.” The uproar is over Hungary’s Media Council (or Media Authority), now controlled by that country’s center-right government, which critics say has been shortchanging Klub in the license renewal process.
According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, in December the Council granted a frequency used by Klub “to an unknown company with no broadcasting experience”:
The Authority issued the tender for an all-music radio station, making it clear that Klubrádió cannot continue its operation in its present form unless it transformed its programming into a “light” radio station. The rules on tender procedures for broadcasting frequencies allow the Authority to arbitrarily apply the laws. The evaluation of the bids was not transparent.
A Reuters news story quotes Hungary’s Prime Minister as dismissing the protests.
“If someone applies for a wavelength then they must make an offer that can win,” Viktor Orban declared during a radio interview. “If they want to pay a fraction of what someone else would pay then even the greatest powers in the world may support them, I cannot transgress Hungary’s laws.”
Guess it’s all about cold hard cash these days in Hungary. The HCLU says that’s wrong:
As a consequence of the decision, there are no national left-liberal radio stations remaining Hungary. The remaining news or talk radios represent the rightist political opinion and/or belong to [Viktor Orban’s] Fidesz-related interest groups (Lánchíd, Info Rádió).
It should be emphasised that the Klubrádió decision is part of a long-term strategic plan by the Fidesz party and pro-Government media companies to dominate the mainstream media. The underlying mission of the media laws and of the Media Council is to assist Fidesz in carrying out its established goal of acquiring control of the media scene, through both legal and economic means. There has been a general belief on the political right that there is a leftist prevalence in the Hungarian media, and the intention to change this has been expressed by Government officials on several occasions.
Even European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes has weighed in on this issue. Decisions like those being made by the Council, “can have wider implications and raise wider concerns”:
Especially when some worry that the underlying motive for setting new licensing criteria is to exclude existing, independent voices, rather than the opening up of new ones.
In such an atmosphere it is especially important that the affected parties have their rights of appeal – in court – fully respected if they do not agree with a licensing decision.
Klub Radio’s fate “is going to be the proof of how the country’s new Media Council will use its limitless powers provided by the new Media Law,” the station warns.
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