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Radio in Hungary: Political horsetrading with licences

KlubRadio, Budapest - the last medium open to the political opposition in Hungary - has now got 60 more days on the air. Thereafter everything is uncertain.

KlubRadio is fighting for survival. 
The talk/news channel has often acted as an unofficial oppositon to the present rightwing government in Hungary.  In a tender in December its frequency was handed to an obscure rival that submitted a higher bid and plans to broadcast music rather than talk.  This lead to street demonstrations by ten thousands of supporters and a growing concern in the EU commission over lack of media freedom in Hungary.  Then - in early February - the Hungarian Media Council prolonged KlubRadio's temporary licence by 60 days.  And the fate of KlubRadio will be finally decided in March when the Hungarian Appeal Court is expected to rule in the law suit the station has filed against the Media Council.

Still on the air under Radiodays Europe
Therefore - KlubRadio will probably still be on air when the station manager Vicsek Ferenc presents their case at Radiodays Europe on March 15th.  But no one knows for how long it will last.

Compared Hungarian media laws to European standards
- The KlubRadio case is a first test of Hungary's new media system, and it appears to have exposed the weaknesses in many areas, says Amy Brouillette.  She is a media researcher at the Center for Media and Communication Studies (CMCS) in Budapest.   In 2011 she was the lead researcher and editor of a major study comparing Hungarian media laws with European norms and practices.  The study involved researchers from 20 countries and got widespread attention around Europe.

Transparent and independent radio licencing is needed
- Journalists and radio professionals should care much more about radio licencing issues and media policies, she says.  - In Eastern Europe radio licencing has been a battleground for political parties ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990.  The privatizing of formerly state-owned media created intense competition and has often opened for political favoritism. 
- The KlubRadio case is also part of a longer history of horsetrading of national radio frequenzies between political parties in Hungary.  There are similar controversies in Poland and Czech Republic.  This case in particular highlights the importance of having a fair, transparent system for allocating licenses and an independent body responsible for making these decisions.  This is especially a problem for the new democracies in Eastern Europe, but is important principles anywhere, says Amy Brouillette.

Want to know more?
The KlubRadio case was the theme of the midday news magazine "Reality check" on February 12th on FM4 of Austria's national public radio ORF.  Read the introduction by program host Steve Criley and listen to his discussion in the radio program about the wider context for the present conflict. "Reality check" from FM4, ORF 12.2.2012.