Further attacks against freedom of expression in Hungary

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Government breaks Council of Europe treaty

The latest issue that raised outcry from the professional community is the opposing of an ECHR decision by the government. The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the freedom expression in the case Fratanoló v. Hungary (Application no. 29459/10, 3 Nov, 2011), after Vajnai v. Hungary (Application no. 33629/06, 8 July, 2008), upon the same facts. Fratanoló, member of the Labour Party of Hungary 2006 wore a red star on his coat (appx. 2 cm in diameter) on an event 1st May, 2004 and gave an interview to local television, by this showing the red star to the greater public. He was convicted of the crime „using symbols of dictatorships” in 2010. (The court procedure started only in 2007, the court of first instance found him guilty; upon appeal he was acquitted in 2008; upon appeal of the public prosecutor he was found guilty again in 2010.) The Vajnai decision was passed in 2008 by ECHR (Vajnai is also member of the same party.)

Last week, vice-Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, submitted a report to the Parliament about implementation of the judgement, which contains that the government did not agree with the decision and maintains its opinion expressed during the court procedure.[1] In addition, he submitted a proposal to the Parliament, suggesting the Parliament to express its opinion of not agreeing with the implementation and with the amendment of the law.[2]The Parliament does not usually make declarations of opinion, and as there is no implementation of the ECHR decision, it is strange to disapprove of it. Several civil organisations and experts expressed their concern for intentionally contravening the obligatory decision of the ECHR, which constitutes a transgression of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Update in the Radio-saga

The court decided in favour of Klubradio in both cases: in its previously won, unused frequency, for which the Media Council denied concluding the official contract; in this case the Media Council applied against the decision. Also in the recent frequency distribution case, the court annulled the Media Council’s decision because of a formal mistake noticed in the tender documents of the winner organisation, and excluded the winner from the tender. As Klubradio received the second best score at the tender, the Media Council is bound to announce its winning.

The Media Council, rather than yielding to the decisions, communicated that the court „confirmed the Media Council’s position” but the “decision is inconsistent”,[3] in the first case, and appealed against the decision for “clarification”. In the second case, it expressed that Klubradio also committed „similar” mistakes in its application, but it did not specify what they were. There is no appeal against this decision, according to the new law.

However, the recently won frequency licence was offered under conditions that are unfavourable for Klubradio: its operator must provide mainly music and very little talk and news content – which was the main profile of Klubradio.

Remember Inforadio

Recently, another tender was published: among others, the frequency of InfoRadio, the first commercial news radio. The new licence for this frequency is offered again with the conditions of providing mainly music (preferably 60%), only local news, and previously using the frequency is worth only 0,7% of the scores, while 17% of the scores can be awarded upon subjective discretion.

This radio, which uses frequency 95,8 and can be received in the capital and in a circle of 80 kms around, offers fresh news (local, national and international) every 15 minutes, economic news and analysis programmes, and interviews in the evenings with politicians and economic experts. The 12 year old radio is the second biggest reach among regional broadcasts. Although its owner is a company close to Fidesz, the governing party, the radio – except for campaign periods – was held objective and professional, according to observers and experts.

Decreasing fees behind doors

Big national commercial broadcasters received major discounts in licence fees recently, but the details of the contract are kept secret by the Media Council. Neo FM and Class FM radios won their licences in 2009 in very questionable tenders primarily because of promising irrationally high fees. Then President of the Radio and Television Board László Majtényi held that the fees were irrational and the tender corrupted, and resigned.[4] (Irrationally high fees were also a factor in the Klubradio tender – the winner offered a high fee, and started to advertise its licence weeks after its victory.)

Similarly, the two national commercial television (RTL and TV2) stations also requested, and – probably – received a major cut of their fees, but the Media Council published only the fact of the amendments of their contracts, and denied publication of the contracts themselves, arguing that they contain the business secrets of the media service providers.[5] A court procedure for the information is in progress.


[1] http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/06853/06853.pdf

[2] http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/06854/06854.pdf

[3] http://www.mediatanacs.hu/hirek.php?hir_id=868

[4] http://www.jogiforum.hu/hirek/21916; http://www.mediatanacs.hu/hirek.php?hir_id=457

[5] http://mertek.postr.hu/adatigenyles

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