„As I am a lawyer, I believe in the rule of law” – The case of Klubrádió seen by the President of the Media Council

Last updated: 12 February 2021

The Media Council did not withdraw the right of frequency band use allocated to Klubrádió, and there is still a chance for it to continue operating. There have been several gestures made by the Media Council in this regard; the radio station was not discriminated against. The decisions were taken in line with the provisions of the Media Act leaving the Council with no room for manoeuvre. Every decision of the Media Council, which supervised the free media market, is open to appeal.

As president of the Media Council, I emphasize that every radio station is treated according to equal standards by the Council, and accordingly it also did not apply either negative or positive discrimination with respect to Klubrádió. Contrary to the phrasing that has often appeared in the press, the station’s rights of frequency band use were not “withdrawn” by the Media Council; they had been allocated for a fixed term and Klubrádió is going to complete this service period without disruption. The automatic extension of the rights of frequency band use without a public tender is a privilege that – as a result of repeated violations of the law – could not be granted to Klubrádió pursuant to the Media Act, and was a decision with relation to which the media Council had no choice.

The infringements that prohibit the extension of the licence are also not “contrived”, since the legislation sets down the legal consequences of each violation of its provisions. The Council has no room for manoeuvre in this regard if it wishes to adopt lawful decisions in its function as a legal authority.

In the case of the breaches concerned i.e. failure to comply with the reporting obligation, the Media Council first called on Klubrádió to comply with its obligation, and after a second written notice proved unsuccessful the violation of the law was established, and the penalty was imposed. The violations were also acknowledged by Klubrádió, in view of the fact that it did not appeal the decisions when they were imposed.

Similarly, during the procedure concerning the renewal of the right to provide media services, the Media Council informed Klubrádió in writing more than a year in advance that the provisions of the Media Act exclude the possibility of the automatic renewal of the licence without public tendering because of the repeated infringements. Had Klubrádió not requested an extension in view of the statutory grounds for exclusion, the media Council could have held the tender procedure before the expiry of the station’s right to provide media services on 14 February, in which Klubrádió could also have participated with a chance of success.

During my term as president of the Media Council, I have seen many cases similar to that of Klubrádió: the Council has had to reject the extension of the right to provide media services of 12 radio stations. Of these 12, some stations were awarded with the same frequency in a new tender, and there have been stations that continued their operation on a different frequency they were awarded with, while some continued to operate as internet radio stations, and there were others that ceased their operations. The radio market is in continuous evolution as the frequencies assigned are a scarce state resource, which must be reallocated from time to time via new tenders.

The Hungarian media market is free, diverse and varied: 393 television stations, 156 terrestrial radio stations, 78 internet radio stations, 6731 printed and 3540 electronic press outlets offer information to the Hungarian people.

The Media Council could not conclude a contract for temporary media services with Klubrádió for the period after the station’s right to provide media services expired, as Klubrádió did not submit any request in this regard. The Media Act stipulates the regulations for acquiring the right to provide temporary media services. These rights can only be obtained during the course of an administrative procedure if certain legal conditions are met. The Authority can evaluate these conditions exclusively during the course of the aforementioned administrative procedure.

Despite the hysteria, the Media Council cannot be expected to apply a positive bias towards Klubrádió. Nevertheless, the Media Council did make several gestures towards the radio station.

Klubrádió is the only radio station that was on the air for 10 years instead of the maximum 7-year period a station can be awarded with a single tender.

Between 2011 and 2014, it operated using the commercial 95,3 MHz frequency, and from 2014 it used the 92,9 MHz frequency free of charge. According to the agreement concluded for the transition to the new frequency, Klubrádió did not sign the new agreement for the remaining 4 years, but began with a clean slate and was allowed to begin a new licence period for the full 7 years without tender and without its former obligation regarding the payment of a licence fee. Klubrádió has received HUF 12.849.720 financial support from the grant scheme of the Media Council in recent years.

The Media Council also placed Klubrádió at an advantage by including in the conditions of the ongoing frequency tender for the 92,9 MHz frequency the fact that radio stations previously operating on the same frequency will receive an additional point. There is only one station of this kind: Klubrádió Zrt.

Every decision taken by the Media Council may be appealed in court. The court comes to a decision by taking into account every aspect of the case. According to the principle of the rule of law, neither the Media Council nor Klubrádió are allowed to circumvent the provisions of  law. The radio station still has the chance to continue its operation on the same frequency or to submit its bid for tender for the rights of use of any other frequency.

Dr. Monika Karas, President of the Media Council