Reporters Without Borders

How far will Media Council go to eliminate Klubradio?

How far will Media Council go to eliminate Klubradio?

Published on Friday 6 July 2012.
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Reporters Without Borders is dismayed to learn that Hungary’s Media Council (NMHH) has rejected opposition radio station Klubradio’s bid to keep its Budapest commercial radio frequency, 95.3 FM, although the station had already been reassigned it after going to court. The bids of all other radio frequency applicants were also rejected.

“The Media Council’s stubborn hostility towards Klubradio only reinforces the view that it is politicized, despite its denials,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This decision is just the latest stage in a long battle that has included an attempt by the ruling party to use its legislative power to circumvent court decisions. It also underscores the dangers of the 2010 media law, which Prime Minister Viktor Orban is trying to retain in the face of general opposition.”

“By citing the ‘Klubradio judicial precedent’ as grounds for eliminating all the applicants for the three frequencies on offer in the capital, this regulatory agency is just making things worse. If it sticks to these ridiculous arguments, it will be clear that it has a political agenda. How far will the ruling party go in its attempts to ride roughshod over its opponents and the international community?”

In a controversial bid process prioritizing music and local news last December, the Media Council stripped Klubradio of its frequency, 95.3 FM, and assigned it to a new, unknown applicant, Autoradio, which was offering content of a non-political nature. No account was taken of the fact that Klubradio had been broadcasting on this frequency for years and had many listeners.

In February, a Budapest municipal court overturned the Media Council’s decision, disqualified Autoradio and ruled that the frequency should go to Klubradio as the station that came second in the bid contest. Although the ruling was upheld on appeal a month later, the ruling party, Fidesz, which controls parliament and the Media Council, tried to have a law passed that would allow the council to override court decisions.

According to Klubradio and the local media, the Media Council said the station was excluded because not all of the pages in its application were correctly signed and numbered. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the Media Council just sent a copy of the press release it issued yesterday referring vaguely to “formal criteria (...) defined by the court decision and its legal arguments.” The release did not explain what would happen next, given that all the applicants were disqualified. Requests for further details have received no reply yet.

Reporters Without Borders spoke to Klubradio director-general Andras Arato after he visited the Media Council and inspected the original of his application closely. “I checked the entire application and all the pages were signed and numbered,” he said. “That’s when they told me that the blank pages should also have been signed and numbered. It is the only reason given for our exclusion.”

Klubradio is determined to take this latest Media Council decision to court and has eight days to file an appeal.

The Media Council’s composition and powers are at the heart of the controversy over the repressive media law which was adopted in December 2010 and which, despite a series of subsequent amendments, it is still essentially unchanged.

The latest change, adopted by parliament on 24 May, introduced a few improvements, above all regarding protection of sources. But the government again failed to modify its central feature – the fact that the Media Council’s chairman is appointed by the prime minister and that it has the power to interfere in the news media’s editorial decision-making.

(Picture: Ferenc Isza / AFP)

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