A Hungarian court this week forced the embattled independent radio station Klubradio off air, likely for good. The court upheld a September decision by the country’s media regulator to revoke Klubradio’s license for alleged breaches of the country’s restrictive media laws.
Klubradio’s director, Andras Arato, told me the suspension followed minor infractions including missing deadlines to send reports to the regulator, or playing slightly less Hungarian music one day than required by national law. “None…were significant or content related,” Arato said.
The station had no idea that such small infractions could lead to being shut down, and therefore chose not to challenge each of the alleged infractions but paid the small fines imposed. The court ignored evidence that other stations with similar infractions had not had their broadcasting licenses revoked.
The regulator, known as the Media Council, and the court, decided that by not appealing the infractions, Klubradio has accepted its guilt. Klubradio will appeal the court’s ruling but the government’s influence over the courts gives little cause for optimism.
This is not the first time the government-aligned Media Council has gone after the radio station, which often airs opinions critical of the government. Klubradio fought similar court battles against the regulator in the early 2010s and ended up losing its right to nationwide broadcasting and limited its reach just to Budapest. As of February 14, Klubradio will disappear from the airwaves altogether and be relegated to the internet.
The shutdown of Klubradio is just the latest example of the Hungarian government’s efforts to silence critical voices and control the media landscape.
In July 2020, the editor-in-chief of the leading news site Index was fired by the outlet’s new owner, who has close links to the government. The paper’s entire staff resigned in protest. In 2016, Hungary’s biggest opposition daily Nepszabadsag was closed down. And the 2018 merger of nearly 500 outlets into one conglomerate loyal to the government, sidestepping competition laws, effectively ended media pluralism in the country.
European Union institutions should be alarmed at this continued crackdown on independent media.
Hungary is already under scrutiny for flouting the EU’s democratic principles. But member states have dragged their feet as the situation in Hungary deteriorates.
The EU Council, currently chaired by Portugal, should act now to declare Hungary in breach of the EU’s core values and hold Viktor Orban’s government to account.