Budapest, Hungary – Klubradio, one of Hungary’s last independent radio stations, will be forced to go off the air on Monday after a court ruling confirmed local regulators’ decision not to renew its broadcasting license.
Hungary’s Klubradio loses broadcasting license
Klubradio had been on the air for 19 years, and is one of the last remaining voices critical of the Orban government, with the National Association of Hungarian Journalists calling it “the only remaining […] public service broadcaster in Hungary whose content is not under government influence.”
Klubradio’s broadcasting license had been revoked in September by Hungary’s Media Council for “regulatory offenses”, among other charges critics have described as politically motivated.
While Klubradio has admitted small infractions imposed by Hungary’s strict media laws, like missing deadlines to send reports to the regulator, it paid the required fines and pointed out that no other stations had lost their broadcasting license over such minor infractions.
The radio, which often featured guests and public figures critical of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, had appealed the Media Council’s decision, whose members are directly elected by the National Assembly, where the ruling Fidesz party holds a wide majority.
Describing the decision as another fatal blow to media freedom and pluralism in Hungary, Klubradio’s news director Mihaly Hardy commented that “there is a huge propaganda balloon built up by the government and Klubradio was a little hole, a little piece of truth where the air could escape, so they had to close this little hole […] so they can construct their own propaganda world which does not reflect the realities of Hungary.”
“Another sad day for media freedom”
The station, who will still be allowed to broadcast via the internet, can request another appeal against the ruling. With concerns over Klubradio’s fate mounting for months, local and international observers condemned the ruling, seen as the government’s latest attempt to stifle media freedom and silence critical voices.
“We are witnesses to a verdict that serves an endlessly, cowardly, anti-democratic, illiberal system”, lamented Klubradio‘s CEO Andras Arato. “It is not a surprise, but it is still sad.”
The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner said it was “another sad day for media freedom”, while the International Press Institute’s president Scott Griffen stated: “Make no mistake, this is the outcome of a deliberate, decade-long effort by political forces in Hungary to eradicate Klubradio from the airwaves.”
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, for his part, claimed that “the radio station’s own management is to blame for its demise by flagrantly disregarding broadcasting regulations and falling afoul of the court”, accusing those who say otherwise of “living on planet Soros”.
Controlling the media landscape
Once broadcast all across Hungary, Klubradio had been facing attacks from public authorities for years, and was gradually forced to reduce its scope. The station can now only be heard in and around Budapest, reaching an estimated 500,000 listeners.
Since coming to power in 2010, Prime Minister Orban has been accused of cracking down on independent media and stifling media freedom, turning state-owned outlets into government mouthpieces and gradually forcing other ones to close down or bought over by loyal allies.
Only last year, the entire staff of Hungary’s leading independent news site Index resigned after its editor-in-chief was fired by the owner, who has close links with the government. At the time the country’s most influential opposition daily, Nepszabadsag was also closed down in 2016.
Hungary dropped to its lowest-ever ranking in last year’s World Press Freedom Index, falling to the 89th position (the second lowest among EU member states).
Main photo credit: Klubradio Facebook page