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MEPs urge EU to take ‘concrete’ action over Hungarian media crackdown

Demand comes as Viktor Orban strips last independent radio station of broadcast license

More than 80 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called on the European Commission to take action against continued efforts to muzzle the press in Hungary.

In a letter sent to the Commission on Friday, MEPs said “concrete” action must be taken after Hungary’s last major independent radio station lost its battle to renew its broadcasting license. 

French MEP Laurence Farreng shared the letter on Twitter, which calls on the EU to “strengthen your efforts to fight against political measures aimed at weakening the good health of independent media outlets, and therefore the Rule of Law”.

Klubrádió, a radio station associated with the left-liberal opposition in Hungary, will as of today operate online only after its licence was not extended. 

It follows the closure of the country’s largest daily newspaper, Népszabadság, in 2016, ostensibly for financial reasons. However, “opposition parties, activists and journalists blamed the move on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s intention to control the media”, Politico’s Brussels Playbook reports.

In July 2020, the majority of journalists working at Hungarian news site Index also resigned, citing fears over independence after its editor-in-chief, Szabolcs Dull, was dismissed from his post.

An “information note” seen by Politico that was sent by Orban’s party, Fidesez, to members of European Parliament’s conservative European People’s Party delegation blamed international coverage of the Klubrádió shutdown on “fake news and false interpretations”.

However, the site adds that a letter sent by the EU’s director general for communications networks, content and technology, Roberto Viola, to the Hungarian ambassador warned that the decision to revoke the station’s licence was based on “highly questionable legal grounds”.

“It is doubtful whether the Hungarian legislation regulating the renewal of these rights of use and the manner in which it has been implemented by the Media Council in the case at stake respects EU law and the principle of proportionality,” he added.

The Hungarian government said that it will respond to the MEP’s letter, but pointed towards a blog post written by the president of the country’s Media Council, Monika Karas, who claimed that “the radio station was not discriminated against”.

In 2018, The New York Times reported that “financial pressure on the owners of independent media outlets” in Hungary has seen them sold to Orban’s friends, or “toe a softer line”. “State media, meanwhile, is entirely loyal to Orban”, the paper added, creating an “echo chamber... which has muted alternative voices”.

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