The handwriting has been on the wall for at least a year: the Orbán government, which has been methodically building a country where freedom of expression will be severely limited, is planning to deprive KlubRádió, practically the only voice of the opposition on the air, of its frequency.
This year the current FM frequency license of KlubRádió expires, and therefore about a year and a half ago the owners of the radio applied for a new frequency. The idea was that in case they lose their current one there will be another at the radio's disposal. KlubRádió won the frequency, but meanwhile the new Media Council led by Annamária Szalai wouldn't give its blessing to the legally acquired new frequency. KlubRádió sued, but in good old Hungarian fashion the case still hasn't been decided.
During this time the Media Council extended KlubRádió's license of the current frequency on a temporary basis, three months at a time. Thus, the fate of the radio station has been in limbo for over a year. My suspicion is that the Media Council, most likely on the direct instruction of Viktor Orbán who loathes the station and all the people who work there, hoped that it would not have to take drastic measures to close the radio station. It would be enough to keep its destiny in suspense. Companies would be unwilling to advertise on KlubRádió because its future was uncertain. Contracts are normally signed for a year.
Initially at least the government's strategy seemed to be effective. No advertisements came KlubRádió's way. At this point the station decided to imitate the American National Public Radio and began a campaign among the faithful listeners of the station to help support it financially. Interestingly enough, although I'm sure a lot of people were skeptical about the campaign's success, up to now 250 million forints have been collected. And, by the way, here is the telephone number where one can pledge: 06 40 555 000. Or the account number for bank deposits: 10918001-00000068-67980006.
Thus the hope that KlubRádió would die a quiet death didn't materialize. Orbán's Media Council had to use more forceful methods. Yesterday it announced that KlubRádió's 88.9 FM frequency is up for bid, but the requirements are set in such a way that KlubRádió couldn't possibly win the frequency. The Media Council would like to see a station at that frequency broadcasting mostly music. KlubRádió's programming is mostly talk. There are only two such stations in Hungary: KlubRádió and Inforádió, a pro-Fidesz-government radio station. On the other hand, stations with practically continuous music are everywhere. The Media Council's intention is clear: to silence KlubRádió.
Yesterday every half a hour KlubRádió announced the news about the frequency, and during György Bolgár's call-in program worried listeners expressed their sadness and/or outrage. The most interesting call came from a famous listener of KlubRádió: Miklós Gáspár Tamás, or TGM as he is known in Hungary. TGM was born in Cluj, Romania, and studied philosophy at the university there. Sometime after 1978 he moved to Hungary where he joined the small "democratic opposition" whose members later established the liberal party (SZDSZ).
TGM is a brilliant but restless fellow who has been madly looking for the "perfect" political system. Not surprisingly he never seems to find it. From liberal he turned briefly to conservative and later some kind of utopian communist. Although I haven't been following TGM's writings very closely over the last couple of years, it seems that Viktor Orbán's image of a Hungary that in many ways would be more restrictive than the regime of Miklós Horthy awakened the liberal defender of democracy in TGM and led him to set aside his communist illusions.
I will briefly summarize what TGM had to say yesterday. He described the media situation in Hungary as worse than in the Kádár regime or between the two world wars. During the Horthy regime between 1924 and 1937 there were several dozen opposition papers. Today there are only two: Népszabadság and Népszava. In the 1980s in the Kádár regime, although opposition opinions couldn't be expressed forcefully, there were dozens of excellent publications where very serious writings on philosophical and sociological topics could be published. There was censorship in the Kádár regime, but surely it is a new phenomenon that the censor (the Media Council) is actually the employer of the reporters of MTI who provide the news free of charge to all written and electronic media. The media empire of Fidesz is growing: they are buying up Hungarian-language papers in Romania. Since these papers usually lose money it is clear that the media moguls of Fidesz are not buying these outlets for the purpose of becoming rich. On the contrary, they are willing to lose money to serve their political purposes.
TGM finished his assessment of the media in Orbán's regime which he at least twice called a dictatorship by saying that in the last year he was very careful when it came to criticism of the government. He was careful because he knew how many people had high hopes last May at the time of the elections. But now he must raise his voice. He called on people to set aside their differences and unite because, he is sad to say, "what we have is a dictatorship." Everything "we have achieved in the last twenty years is in danger." He begged everybody who cares about democracy to unite from left to moderate right. Act while it is not too late. Because as the government and Fidesz are losing popularity they will introduce more and more restrictive legislation. Soon enough all "legal avenues will be closed." And that can lead to catastrophe.
And finally, a few moments after the announcement of the Media Council's intention to sell the frequency to a music station a petition appeared on the internet: "Say no to the closing of KlubRádió": http://www.peticiok.com/mondj_nemet_a_klubradio_megszuntetesere By the way, I was pleased to hear that KlubRádió has well over 100,000 listeners, although in certain larger cities it cannot be heard. It is certainly my favorite, the only Hungarian radio station I listen to.