Klubrádió’s issue is with the Hungarian court applying Hungarian and EU law, and with two other market entities that have taken legal action, not with “politics”.
Freedom of the press in Hungary has been a subject of constant concern for the Left, and the case of Klubrádió provides another opportunity to cry “Dictatorship!” However, the facts do not warrant the hysteria, they never do. You see, this radio station “fighting constant oppression” has enjoyed, uniquely on the Hungarian market, the rights to the frequency free of charge (and without a tender) since 2011. The substance of this “scandal” is that after a string of violations, that Klubrádió doesn’t dispute, it cannot keep the rights to the frequency automatically, but has to participate in an open tender competing with multiple other applicants for the right to continue to broadcast on that frequency. Further, this has come about not because of the “oppressive Orbán regime”, but due to a decision taken by the independent Hungarian court in complete accord with Hungarian and EU law. Their problem is, essentially, that they are not above the law.
The pertinent requirements of the Act on Media Services are based on EU law. In fact, based on EU directives, Hungarian law could choose not to allow an automatic renewal of rights to a frequency at all, which would mean that every media provider would have to resubmit a tender at the end of the duration of their rights. However, Hungarian law does provide for a renewal upon request and sets two conditions for accepting it: the media provider cannot be in arrears with the media service provision fee, and refrain from violations.
The rights to Klubrádió’s frequency were not renewed, because it breached the regulations set out by the Act on Media Services twice within a 12 months period prior to submitting their request. (In fact, in the past seven years, they’ve committed seven violations.) The law is very clear with this regard: “Said rights shall not be renewed in the event that the rights holder (…) repeatedly or severely violated the provisions set forth in this Act”. At the time these violations took place, the radio station did not dispute them and did not turn to the courts because of them, although it was clear to everyone that they form an insurmountable legal obstacle on the way of automatic renewal.
The violations pertained to the radio station’s reporting requirements, but their “repeated” nature left the Media Council with no other option but to deny Klubrádió’s request for automatic renewal. In fact, granting renewal would have been a breach of law. The Council’s decision was upheld by the court. It also denied Klubrádió’s request for a temporary broadcast permit, because the request should have been submitted to the Media Council, not the court. It seems the radio station never applied for the temporary permit with the Council.
Parallelly with their renewal request, Klubrádió also submitted an application to the open tender where they found themselves competing with two other market entities (Közösségi Rádiózásért Egyesület and LBK Médiaszolgáltató 2020 Kft.) The Media Council has accepted the application from Klubrádió and rejected the other two. However, these have lodged an administrative appeal against the decision to deny their applications which, in accordance with the law, forced the suspension of the tender until the appeal is resolved by the courts. The suit is currently in progress, the decision will be rendered by the court.
In summation: the current legal situation is that due to violations committed and not disputed by Klubrádió (which uniquely on the Hungarian market had had access to its frequency without a fee and a tender) precluded the automatic renewal of its frequency rights. The new tender that was announced for the frequency, that they have successfully applied for, is suspended due to legal action taken by their competitors. Despite all of the above, the radio station will not “go silent,” it will continue to broadcast on the internet in an unchanged format. These are the facts. Of course, everyone is free to form their opinion as they wish. We at the Center for Fundamental Rights listened to Klubrádió regularly (often laughing to our hearts’ content), were guests in one of the shows, and we hope be again in the future.