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Mar 11, 2021 - Zoltán Kovács

Much ado about nothing: Another debate about Hungarian press freedom

The alleged “shutdown” of Klubrádió served up a perfect opportunity for our professional Hungary critics to drag their “concerns” about Hungary’s press situation into a European Parliamentary debate yesterday. But what will they do when the Klubrádió mantra is finally revealed to be what it has been all along: a huge nothingburger.

 

Yesterday afternoon, the European Parliament’s plenary session debated the “very alarming” topic of “government attempts to silence free media in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia.” While the debate was to only include Poland, the European Parliament’s left-liberal majority, with a big assist from Hungarian leftist parties in the EP, managed to use the alleged “shutdown” of Hungarian radio station Klubrádió to put the topic of Hungary’s press situation on the agenda.

The notorious International Press Institute (IPI), joined by 18 (mostly Soros-funded) press organizations, went as far as to “call upon the [European] Commission” to open investigations and launch proceedings into cases that they deem necessary.

First off, let’s be clear: Press freedom in Hungary is, in fact, safe and sound.

Secondly, those who claim that Klubrádió was “shut down” by the Hungarian Government aren’t telling you the truth. Not even half of it. In a ruling handed down around a month ago by the Budapest Tribunal, the court upheld a decision taken last September by Hungary’s National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) to deny the renewal of Klubrádió’s seven-year license to broadcast on the 92.9 MHz Budapest frequency. According to the ruling, Klubrádió’s license expired on February 14.

Critics, of course, will not tell you the court’s reason for its ruling: Klubrádió, on no fewer than six occasions in the last seven years, violated broadcasting rules and was fined twice for violations of “not a minor degree.”

The fact of the matter is that while political activists sympathetic to the radio station’s narratives have contested the ruling, the government has neither the right, the will, nor the possibility to interfere with the legal disputes between private market actors, the media authority and the courts.

A recent development, however, makes it even more obvious that all that buzz around Klubrádió was ultimately for nothing.

Since the court ruling in February, applications have opened up for Klubrádió’s former 92.9 MHz radio frequency and, as the law poses no prohibition in this regard, Klubrádió became one of three applicants with a chance of obtaining the broadcasting license.

What’s more, after NMHH dismissed two other applicants last week, namely the ATV Group-affiliated Spirit FM and LBK Médiaszolgáltató Kft. due to deficient applications, Klubrádió is currently the only standing candidate for broadcasting on the frequency. So, Klubrádió has a chance to be back on the air.

The non-issue of Klubrádió presents yet more proof that our critics in the European and international arenas will resort to just about anything that could be turned into a political weapon against Hungary and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.