How long will the Media Council play games with Klubrádió?

For some time it has been obvious that Viktor Orbán is determined to silence Klubrádió. The station must be a real thorn in his side. And when this man hates someone or something he goes after it with a vengeance. He managed to ruin Ferenc Gyurcsány when he was in opposition. So, imagine what he can do now that his power is seemingly limitless.

Well, not really limitless. He ran into difficulty with the courts. I can imagine his fury every time the courts render a judgment in favor of Klubrádió. Not just in connection with the frequency the station is using at the moment but also the one Klubrádió won shortly before the elections but was deprived of under the new regime. I bet if he could he would send all the judges who ruled in Klubrádió’s favor packing.

bull hornSome readers of Hungarian Spectrum are convinced that sooner or later Viktor Orbán will win and the Media Council will be able to take away both frequencies Klubrádió currently is entitled to use. But this is too obvious a ploy. They have another plan. They will try to ruin it financially. Eventually, the owners of Klubrádió will have to throw in the towel because a station with such an uncertain future will not receive advertising revenues and it will not be able to survive solely from donations from its listeners. The so-called legal arguments the Media Council’s lawyers came up with so far border on the ridiculous. And when the arguments don’t work, they simply refuse to fulfill their court-ordered obligations. In brief, they ignore the law.

Here is a press release I received from András Arató, CEO of Klubrádió. I also include a recent post of Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for digital agenda and one of the vice-presidents of the European Commission. As you can see from her letter dated November 26, it seems that not only Klubrádió’s patience is running out.

A press release by Klubrádió, November 30, 2012

To the Media Council:

Lately you have been entertaining the public with lies and misrepresentations of facts on a daily basis concerning the legal status of the Klubrádió’s frequencies. What is more, you have an enormous staff and you spend huge amounts of public money to suppress a radio station not to your liking.. In this press release, we would like to react to your latest announcement dated 29 November.

You claim that “the Media Council has been continuously and reliably providing Klubrádió the opportunity to operate in the last two years.” In fact, the Media Council allows us to use our frequency by issuing temporary licenses for two-month periods at a time. We only learned on Wednesday that we would be allowed to broadcast next Tuesday. And this has been going on for two years although so far six court judgments have confirmed that we have the right to use a frequency permanently. Your inexplicable behavior causes immense losses to Klubrádió and to its hundreds of thousands of listeners, to the freedom of press and to Hungary.

You  also claim that “the Media Council has reduced the annual fee to HUF 3 million from HUF 11 million for the Kecskemét frequency and to HUF 4.1 million from HUF 8.5 million for the Debrecen frequency of Klubrádió.” You are misleading the public again as you have not reduced the HUF 25 million fee of Klubrádió’s Budapest frequency in spite of the fact that you did lower the fees for all the commercial stations in the country. You were cynical when you claim that Klubrádió had been left out of the fee reduction because of the temporary status of its frequency rights. Also, you keep the rate of reduction confidential in all the other cases, including that of Class FM, which could be HUF 100 million or even more. Another of your pets, Lánchíd Rádió, is given frequency after frequency in the country free of charge. Katolikus Rádió, Mária Rádió and Európa Rádió don’t have to pay fees at all. To keep repeating that you assist Klubrádió is a cynical proposition. Klubrádió and its partners are in a difficult financial situation primarily because of the Media Council’s actions.

“The Media Council still considers the owner of Klubrádió a partner,” you allege. No, you have never treated Klubrádió as a partner. You offended the public when you wanted to waste Klubrádió’s frequency through a call for tenders issued for stations with a music profile; when you declared Autórádió Kft. which submitted an atrocious offer, the winner; when you did not allow Klubrádió to use the frequency it had won at a tender; when you ignore final and nonappealable judicial decisions and act as if you were above the law. It is clear that the Media Council wants to silence Klubrádió by any means.

The Media Council brings international condemnation to the current Hungarian government by making it clear that there is something very wrong with the state of the free media in Hungary.

My latest thoughts on Hungary and media pluralism and freedom
by Commissioner Neelie Kroes
November 26th, 2012

Throughout 2012, my staff and I have been paying close attention to the state of media pluralism and media freedom in Hungary, and this issue was dealt with again today when I spoke with the Culture committee at the European Parliament.

I welcome changes in the Hungarian Media Legislation that have been proposed or already made by Hungary. However, these changes do not address all the outstanding substantial concerns I have.  My concerns remain serious, and I expect Hungary to not only continue its dialogue with the Council of Europe but to take rapid further action. In other words, it is not enough for the government to say it is in talks with the Council of Europe.

These actions are essential for Hungarian democracy, and also to assure investors about a stable political climate and a safe investment environment in Hungary. These values and conditions are at risk if rule of law and access to information are not guaranteed. News reporting should not be censored or controlled by a government’s actions.

In particular, I want to see immediate action ensuring the real independence of the Media Council; measures to reduce the excessive concentration of powers in the hand of the Media Council and better measures to ensure the effective independent functioning of publicly-funded media.  Solutions can be found in co-operation with the Council of Europe – so let’s see them.

In my view, the Media Council should also reconsider its practices for assigned radio frequencies. The best example of recent problems is several court judgements confirming that the Media Council repeatedly violated the legal requirements related to frequency assignment procedures. We are talking about the famous Klubradio issue.

When the Media Council questions the consistency of the rulings of the court it is questioning the rule of law. This is a serious issue that goes beyond just the uncertain situation of Klubradio. It also offends common sense! Let me cite an extreme example: the Media Council wanted to diminish media pluralism – by excluding all tender proposals including Klubrádió’s – because the blank back sides of the pages of the tender documents had not been signed. This is not reasonable, it is not a sufficient ground for such a drastic decision that affects both media pluralism and the stable conduct of business.

So, let me finish by saying that this lengthy and complicated legal battle should end. Regardless of what anybody thinks of its content, Klubradio provides an important forum for opposition voices in Hungary. The court has consistently rejected the actions of the Media Council which would make its functioning impossible in practice, and now it is time to move forward.
It’s time for the Media Council and the Hungarian Government to take media pluralism and freedom out of danger.

By: Hungarian Spectrum

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