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Hungary Denies Independent Radio's Frequency Bid Amid Media Freedom Concerns

Klubradio programs have been critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Klubradio programs have been critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

BUDAPEST -- Hungary's media regulator on March 11 rejected an application from one of the country's last independent news radio stations to regain its broadcasting frequency in what the International Press Institute (IPI) called “yet another afront” to press freedom in the European Union member state.

Klubradio, whose news and talk content is often critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, has been broadcasting online since mid-February after a court upheld a previous decision by the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) not to extend its broadcasting license.

The radio station applied on an open tender to regain a frequency it lost last month, but the NMHH denied its request -- despite it being the only applicant -- arguing that the application contained errors and did not meet basic requirements for radio broadcasting.

Klubradio has 15 days to appeal the decision.

The radio station called it “unlawful” and vowed to continue broadcasting online.

Critics accuse the NMHH -- whose members are all Orban's supporters -- of exercising political bias in its decision making. The government denies interfering in media issues.

Scott Griffen, deputy director of the Austrian-based IPI, said in a statement that the “latest arbitrary decision” by the “captured” media regulator “shows the lengths to which the Hungarian authorities will go” to ensure Klubradio is blocked from returning to the airwaves before next year’s parliamentary elections.

Griffen urged the European Commission to “immediately intensify its engagement with the Hungarian authorities and investigate whether the decisions by the Media Council in this and other cases contravene EU law.”

The European Commission has urged the country to take action to allow Klubradio to continue broadcasting, saying the loss of the station's frequency had occurred “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds.”

On March 10, the European Parliament debated the erosion of media freedom in Hungary -- as well as in Poland and Slovenia.

Hungary is under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and nongovernmental organizations, and risks losing access to tens of billions of euros in funds from the bloc.

The country is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Only Bulgaria, 111th, is ranked lower among the EU's 27 member nations.

With reporting by AP
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