The European Union's executive arm is urging Hungary to allow a liberal-leaning radio station to continue broadcasting after it was forced off the air on February 15 following a refusal by the authorities to extend its broadcast license.
European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said that the commission sent a letter to Hungary's permanent representation in Brussels last week to express concerns over Klubradio, the country’s last independent news radio station.
The commission asked Budapest to take urgent action to ensure that Klubradio can continue using its frequency until final decisions become legally binding, said Wigand, who warned of “irreparable damage” to the radio station.
He said the station’s loss of its license occurred “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds,” and that Hungary “should respect the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, and the freedom to conduct a business.”
The spokesman said Hungary had not yet sent an official answer to the commission's letter.
Klubradio's content is often critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
In September 2020, Hungary's National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) refused to extend Klubradio's seven-year operating license, saying the station "repeatedly infringed" on the compulsory registration law by twice submitting documents late.
Such violations usually incur fines and the NMHH's announcement raised new concerns about political pressure from the government on the media in the EU member state, which is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Last week, Klubradio's appeal at a Budapest court to force the NMHH to issue a temporary broadcasting license was turned down, taking it off the airwaves when its license expired on February 15, though the radio station continues its programming online.
Klubradio President Andras Arato has said the company planned to appeal the court ruling to Hungary’s Supreme Court.
The suspension has drawn international condemnation, with the European Union and media watchdogs calling the move a further attack on media pluralism in the EU member state.
The NMHH has rejected accusations of political bias, while a Hungarian government spokesman said Klubradio's management was to blame for the station's demise "by flagrantly disregarding broadcasting regulations.”
Hungary is under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and nongovernmental organizations, and Wigand suggested that further action could be taken against the country if the commission finds that Klubradio was silenced unlawfully.
"We are concerned about the situation, and we are looking into this -- into possible implications under union law," the spokesman told an online press conference in Brussels.
"We are looking into these legal possibilities," he added.