Hungary station says censorship may cause it to shut down

Around 10,000 people have rallied in support of a Budapest radio station critical of the government, which may soon be forced to shut down by the media authority. The protesters marched in Budapest carrying placards saying “Down with Censorship.”  The country’s Media Council, set up by a media law in 2010, ruled in December that a local opposition radio station, Klub Radio, could not renew its licence on a frequency it has used in Budapest for a decade.


Klub Radio, which has some 400,000 listeners and is considered the country’s only opposition radio, is due to go off the air on March 1, and will be replaced by an unknown new station, Autoradio, which tendered a higher price.

Klub has already lost five of its ten frequencies in rural areas, leaving it with a diminished audience.

“This is about freedom of expression, mainly,” said Kristof Szabo, a 29-year-old engineer, at the rally. “The radio and its silencing is merely a symbol of that. With this radio the government silences one of the last voices to criticise it.”


Klubradio has challenged the media council’s decision in court, with a ruling expected in late next month. The station is already in dire straits, with some of its staff going unpaid for months.  

“Klub Radio never wanted to take on a symbolic role,” Andras Arato, executive director of the station, told the protesters. “But the powers that be made it a symbol of freedom of expression anyway.”


According to Hungarian media reports, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned Klub Radio in a letter to Orban in December to voice her concern about democracy in Hungary.

The European Union has also weighed in: “The risks that a given action poses for media freedom, or for political freedom in general, depend on the overall context. This overall context has heightened concerns about the way radio licensing is being handled in Hungary,”  European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes wrote on her website on Jan 5. “I think there is room for more radio voices in Hungary, not less.”


Orban dismissed such opinions in an interview with government Kossuth Radio on Friday: “If someone applies for a wavelength then they must make an offer that can win. If they want to pay a fraction of what someone else would pay then even the greatest powers in the world may support them, I cannot transgress Hungary’s laws.”

“Hungary is a democracy, with the rule of law. Competitions must be won by the rules, not because of political connections.”


The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) has fiercely attacked the government on the media issue. “This story, or this tragedy, is not primarily about Klub Radio, but about the freedom of speech,” HCLU Director Balazs Denes said.

The demonstration followed a pro-government rally which attracted over 100,000 on Saturday in a show of support for the embattled Hungarian government, as it prepares to compromise in a row with the EU to secure international aid.


The centre-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party has drawn heavy international criticism for moves that critics say are designed to exert growing control over the media, including private and public broadcasters.

Politically motivated editors often meddle with public television news, according to a handful of journalists who held a hunger strike in protest last month.