Hungary: Last Independent Broadcaster has License Revoked

After a long struggle, a court in Budapest has finally succeeded in shuttering Hungary's last independent broadcaster, Klubradio, after it ruled against the station in an appeal case this week. 

Klubradio appealed the council’s decision, but the Budapest court’s ruling this week means the station will be forced off air by Sunday.Klubradio appealed the council’s decision, but the Budapest court’s ruling this week means the station will be forced off air by Sunday. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)Klubradio, widely considered the voice of Hungary's liberal opposition, has been fighting for its life for the past decade. 

Starting in 2010, when Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party secured a two-thirds majority in Hungary’s parliament, it began to lose advertisers who feared political consequences for supporting the station. 

When Klubradio’s broadcast license expired in 2011, the state began more direct attacks, including attempts to block it from renewing its ability to broadcast on it’s regular frequency. 

The move prompted thousands to take to the streets of Budapest in 2012 in support of the station, and in 2013, the state ultimately relented. 

That was until last September, when Hungary's National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) again ruled that it would not be renewing the radio station’s license; putting their frequency back up for auction. 

The NMHH justified the decision by arguing that Klubradio was not playing enough Hungarian music on a daily basis, therefore violating their contract with the state, according to Human Rights Watch, who lambasted the media council’s decision in a September statement

“The decision to shut down Klubradio is the latest in a long line of examples of the Hungarian government’s efforts to rein in independent press and take control over the media landscape,” HRW said. “European Union institutions should find the demise of free press and independent journalism in Hungary concerning.”

Klubradio appealed the council’s decision, but the Budapest court’s ruling this week means the station will be forced off air by Sunday. According to many, the decision is a major blow to press freedom in the central European nation. 

"With Klubradio, Hungary loses its last independent radio. It is the next victory for Viktor Orban in his crusade against independent media in Hungary,” German MEP Daniel Freund said in an email to OCCRP. “It is more than just another painful blow to press freedom. Viktor Orban's actions in Hungary are endangering democracy across Europe. We cannot continue to stand idly by while an authoritarian system is built in Hungary."

Both Freund and HRW are calling on the EU to take action against Hungary. 

“The EU Council, currently chaired by Germany, should act now to declare Hungary in breach of the EU’s core values and hold Viktor Orban’s government to account,” HRW said.

“The EU Commission must finally use all available instruments to counteract this dismantling of democracy and the rule of law,” Freund told OCCRP. 

Others responded with an air of defiance. 

In one of its last broadcasts, Hungarian MEP Klára Dobrev declared the station will be back on air next year -- assuming an opposition victory in Hungary in 2022.