EU asks Hungary not to take opposition radio off air

An employee of the opposition radio-station Klubradio works at its headquarters in Budapest, Hungary

The European Union’s executive asked Hungary to “take urgent action” to let an opposition radio station continue broadcasting after it lost an appeal against the removal of its licence, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The EU this week expressed concern over media freedom in Hungary over the case of Klubradio, which has been broadcasting for 19 years and whose political and talk show guests often criticise government policies.

The Feb. 12 letter from the European Commission’s head of communication networks unit, Roberto Viola, to Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, Tibor Stelbaczky, read:

“I request you to ensure that the current use of this spectrum can continue in the interim period until final decisions on the rejection of the renewal request and on any new assignment become legally binding.”

“I would request the Hungarian authorities to take urgent action, pending the ongoing court proceedings and final decisions on the rights of use of spectrum, to ensure that… requirements of EU law are respected while avoiding irreparable damage to the current holder of the frequency.”

A spokeswoman for Hungary’s EU embassy confirmed receipt of the letter and said it would be answered by the Hungarian authorities.

The letter said Klubradio was facing “imminent risk” of being forced off air “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds.”

Hungary’s media authority refused to renew Klubradio’s licence due to what it called a string of regulatory offences by the station. Klubradio lost an appeal against the removal of its licence on Tuesday, which means it would be able to operate online only from Sunday.

The Commission letter said Hungary, an ex-communist member of the EU, should respect the right to freedom of expression and to conduct business, as well as honouring the principle of proportionality.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long been criticised within the EU and by international rights groups for putting pressure on independent media, non-governmental organisations, courts and academics.

The bloc has launched a high-level case against Hungary over what it says are violations of the rule of law, and the European Parliament’s main centre-right group suspended Orban’s Fidesz party, citing democratic shortcomings.

Orban rejects the criticism and has refused to change tack.

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