′Independent media will have a future′ — if Orbán is ousted | DW Freedom | Speech. Expression. Media. | DW | 17.03.2021

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Press Freedom

'Independent media will have a future' — if Orbán is ousted

The Hungarian Media Council has rejected Klubrádió's application for a new FM frequency. In an interview with DW, the radio station's director, András Arató, talks about the prospects for independent media in Hungary.

DW: Mr. Arató, in FebruaryKlubrádió lost its FM broadcast frequency, 92.9, in Budapest, and can only be accessed online since. Last week, the Hungarian Media Council rejected your application for a new frequency. What is your comment on this decision?

András Arató: It was disgraceful, vile and cowardly. It is not a legal but a political decision, because the system and its leader, Viktor Orbán, do not tolerate critical voices. 

What does the Media Council object to?

Our 350-page application was rejected because of a formal error and some errors in content. The formal error was that we did not fill in a separate sheet in the broadcasting schedule for a serial program, but only stated that it would be repeated. The content error was that we had specified a particular program as 50 minutes at one point in the application, and 45 minutes at another point by mistake.

The Media Council also claims that Klubrádió has been operating at a financial loss for years and is therefore unable to run a radio station on a permanent basis.

This is a vicious lie. Klubrádió has been broadcasting for 20 years and pays the wages of its employees and all other bills. There is no doubt about us not being able to run a radio station in the long run. As for the loss, I must say that it is really only accounting. Ten years ago, I bridged a difficult financial phase with a private loan to Klubrádió. So formally, the station owes me money. But, since 2015-16, the financial support from our listeners has grown so much that in practice we are operating without a loss.

András Arató, Klubradio director and owner

András Arató, Klubradio director and owner

You will challenge the Media Council's decision in court. What are the chances of success?

I think the chances of success are very slim, because the Hungarian administrative courts have been under increasing political influence for years. When the Media Council decided last September not to renew our broadcasting license which ran until February, we took legal action against it before the Budapest Administrative Court. Our lawsuit was dismissed, the ruling took less than a minute, and the court did not address our arguments in any way. We are now appealing against the rejection of the application before the same court.

Klubrádió has been under fire for 10 years. Advertising revenue was deliberately taken away from you, you lost your broadcasting frequencies outside Budapest, for years you were stuck in lawsuits with the Media Council, and now the withdrawal of the broadcasting frequency from the capital. It seems as if an example is being made. Why Klubrádió?

I can't rule out the possibility that Orbán's order has some ambition to break us because we have survived for so long, despite all the measures. But I don't know. I think we stand out now simply because there are hardly any independent media left in Hungary. However, there is a significant difference between us and other independent private media: many of them were bought by businessmen close to Orbán, and Orbán could claim that he had nothing to do with it. In our case, however, it is a state media authority staffed exclusively by Orbán's people that is taking action against us.

French President Macron with Orbán (right) at the EU summit in Brussels in December

French President Macron with Orbán (right) at the EU summit in Brussels in December

A few days ago, the European Parliament debated the situation of the media in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. The Klubrádió case also came up. What do you make of the EU's reactions?

I am glad that there was this debate, but overall I have to say that the EU has recognized the nature of these populist systems too late. When Orbán came to power in 2010, it should have been clear to the EU within a year or two that this regime was not compatible with European values. The EU should have taken action back then instead of allowing this system to function with a great willingness to compromise.

What can the EU do now?

It can keep the Klubrádió issue on the agenda and keep inconveniencing the Orbán government. But the general problem is different. We are in the historically unique and absurd situation that Orbán's so-called fight for freedom against Brussels is being financed with billions from Brussels, of all places. One solution would be to eliminate the Hungarian government as an interface for the distribution of EU funding as much as possible and distribute the money directly, for example to local governments, so that Orbán and his entourage can no longer profit.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the EU summit in Brussels on October 16

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the EU summit in Brussels on October 16

You have been broadcasting only online since February when your FM frequency was not renewed. How successful is that?

We used to average 150,000 to 200,000 listeners a day. Our Internet audience is hard to measure, but I don't think it's less than 100,000 people. A private Facebook initiative with now more than 6,000 members has also helped, for example helping older listeners switch to Internet reception or collecting old smartphones and distributing them to listeners. We also get letters from listeners in the provinces who say they became aware of us because of the Media Council's current action against Klubrádió and now listen to us regularly online.

How do you see the future of independent private media in Hungary in general?

Parliamentary elections are due in Hungary next year. If Orbán can be ousted, then independent media will have a future. Otherwise, no. Because there is no place for anything independent in this semidictatorial system.

András Arató, born in 1953, is a civil engineer, entrepreneur, photographer and book author. In 2001, he became the majority owner of Klubrádió, a broadcaster founded two years prior. Since then, the Budapest station has established itself as one of Hungary's most important political-cultural radio stations. Its slogan is "Facts, Opinions," and its best-known and most popular program is the afternoon magazine We Discuss It, in which experts and listeners discuss political and social issues.

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