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Viktor Orban Finally Ousts the Zebra

The last independent radio station in Hungary loses its license

Viktor Orbán • Autor: AFP, Profimedia
Viktor Orbán • Autor: AFP, Profimedia

On Sunday, 14 February, Klubradio disappeared from Hungary’s airwaves. The station's broadcasts had only ever been available in Budapest and its outskirts (where, of course, every fourth inhabitant of the country lives), but it was the last radio station in the country to function independently of the government. A recent court decision definitively canceled its license, so the station will now move onto the internet. Theoretically, therefore, nothing prevents anyone from continuing to listen to it. Mobile data is not expensive in Hungary and the popularity of podcasts is growing there like everywhere else. In practice, of course, it is highly likely that things will turn out differently. This effort is about silencing yet another independent media voice in the country.

The official reasons the authorities cited for revoking the station’s license are, at first glance, minor offenses. The telecommunications authority previously rebuked Klubradio for broadcasting its advertising at too high a volume and for having submitted formal documents about the "content and targeting of the broadcasting” with a delay. Klubradio acknowledged those charges and, as the news server 444.hu reported, paid a fine equivalent to about 80 euros. The size of the fine, according to the station's director Andras Arato, speaks to the “gravity” of the errors.

Klubradio made a fateful mistake, though, one of negligence and omission:  Hungarian law states that if an infraction is committed twice within a certain time period, the authorities do not have to automatically renew a broadcasting license. No observers doubt the closing of Klubradio is anything but politically motivated, but the station put its fate in the hands of the Fidesz party regime, which was hostile to them. While Klubradio did appeal the authorities’ decision, the court ruled the state followed the letter of the law.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been attempting to push the station with the zebra in its logo out of the public space since assuming power in 2010. Perhaps because of Klubradio’s fame as a bastion of Budapest’s dyed-in-the-wool left-wing liberalism, the Fidesz party did not endeavor to gain control over the station through its tried-and-true method of financially exhausting it, buying it, and rebuilding it into a pro-government media outlet. From the beginning, the telecommunications authorities have tried to strip Klubradio of its license by administrative methods. A decade ago the station even successfully won a long court battle that was similar to the one it has just now lost.

Warsaw is Watching

The removal of Hungary’s last independent radio station from the airwaves comes at a time when the Hungarian model is inspiring the governing Law and Justice party in Poland. Just as Fidesz previously did, the Polish authorities now want to introduce a media tax that would push media outlets in the direction of financial hardship.

The media companies that were weakened by this method in Hungary were then bought up by the Fidesz oligarchs who have enriched themselves on public tenders. In some cases, according to reliable speculations (which are still just speculations, however), the oligarchs allegedly went so far as to openly threaten those advertising with such media and the outlets’ owners.

Gradually, the Fidesz party-state has gained control over 90 percent of the media market in Hungary. Klubradio’s story may have been different, but it was still the last radio station not serving the government’s interests on the airwaves. Of the big, independent Hungarian media outlets, readers and viewers are currently left with just the news site 24.hu and the RTL Klub television station, which are the most-followed and most-read in their media categories. It is also possible to add to their number the relatively young news outlet Telex, established by the editors of the online daily Index, which was also taken over by people from Fidesz last summer.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert. Vychází ve spolupráci s TransitionsOnline

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