Brussels condemns Hungary’s decision to suspend the license of an independent radio

The news is a new setback for the country’s independent media, who have been under pressure since the return to power of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2010.

Klubrádió president Andras Arato made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that authorities said the station had “violated the rules”.

The liberal-leaning commercial station was one of the only opposition voices left in Hungary.

Arato denounced Tuesday’s decision as “a shameful decision”, which raises new concerns about press freedom in this European Union country.

Speaking to Euronews, he has stated that he plans to appeal to the highest Hungarian court, the Curia, and has promised that his media outlet will remain online and that listeners are “excited”. “They are not going to silence us, and if they also want to support us, we will try to do our bit so that we can live in a better world”, He said.

Why was Klubrádió’s license not renewed?

The Hungarian Media Council (NMHH), controlled by the ruling Fidesz party, alluded in September to some alleged violations of the media law from the country to make the decision not to renew Klubrádió’s license on February 14 and put the frequency out to tender.

The body, created in 2011 under the patronage of President Viktor Orbán, said the broadcaster had submitted administrative documents late twice in the space of a year.

The station’s management said in a statement that the licenses of other stations more closely related to the government that had committed similar violations of the code had been renewed.

The media council said that Klubrádió could request the frequency, which serves the capital, Budapest, and its surroundings.

What is Klubrádió worried about?

The station had applied to the Budapest municipal court for a temporary permit pending the outcome of the contest, which is not expected for several months. Two other radio stations also requested it.

Klubrádió alleged that the authority was deliberately trying to divert the tender into a legal dead end.

Last week, the International Press Institute, based in Vienna (Austria), joined with five other European press organizations to accuse the Fidesz party of wanting to silence Klubradio, within the framework of the repression of the media critics.

Arato also argued that the council, a five-member body appointed by the Hungarian parliament, cannot be considered an independent regulator, as all of its current members were appointed for nine-year terms by the ruling Fidesz party.

But the NMHH told The Associated Press in an email that “in all cases, (the agency) acts in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.”

“The authority does not operate on a political, but professional basis, and rejects such accusations,” he wrote.

The media council cited the fact that Klubradio failed to provide adequate monthly data on its broadcasts to the media regulator on two occasions in 2017., a violation of Hungary’s media law that it said prevents broadcasters from being considered for an automatic extension of their frequency licenses.

How have citizens reacted?

Klubrádió had said in a statement that the efforts to revoke his license served “to silence all critical voices, and if possible, under the cover of legality.”

The station’s staff took to social media to address the station’s audience after the news that it was going to stop working.

News editor Tamás Báder wrote that the station would go “silent right after Valentine’s Day,” but added: “If you are worried, don’t be, if anyone can be happy, enjoy it! But we will come back again.”

In a statement last week, the National Association of Hungarian Journalists rated Klubradio as “the only remaining public service station in Hungary whose content is not under the influence of the government.”

“The hegemony of pro-government stations would increase to 100% with the silencing of Klubradio, which would be unprecedented in Europe,” the group added.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Lydia Gall in September called the Klubrádió decisions “the latest in a long series of examples of the Hungarian government’s efforts to curb the independent press and take control of the media landscape.” .

For his part, the German MEP Daniel friend, who negotiated the Rule of Law mechanism for Greens in the European Parliament, stated: “It is the next victory for Vubrádió”: “It is the next victory for Viktor Orban in his crusade against the independent media in Hungary … Viktor Orban’s actions in Hungary are endangering democracy across Europe. ““We cannot sit idly by while building an authoritarian system in Hungary”, added Daniel Freund.

Hungary currently ranks 89th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom rating. It was the 23rd when Orban returned to power in 2010.