Hungary Moves to Grant Opposition Radio Free Frequency

Hungary’s media regulator will take steps to grant opposition radio station Klubradio a free frequency, in a move that may ease concern over press freedom after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s consolidation of power.

The Media Council “will take the necessary steps to grant the radio a community broadcast license, which will allow for free broadcasts,” the regulator said today in an e-mailed statement. The decision was backed by Monika Karas, the watchdog’s new head who took over in August after the death of her predecessor.

Orban has extended his influence over independent institutions since winning a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, including by overhauling the media regulator, which is led exclusively by ruling-party appointees. The European Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have criticized the country’s new media law, questioning the Media Council’s “unusually broad powers.”

The watchdog reassigned Klubradio’s frequency in 2011, which the station then said was a “de facto ban” of the opposition radio. Court rulings later scrapped the decision, prompting the regulator to give Klubradio a temporary license and then a long-term commercial license.

Hungary has implemented “only a fraction” of the Council of Europe recommendations on protecting media freedom, European Union Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in March, after Klubradio was given its commercial license.

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