Media freedom in Hungary? The case of Klubrádió

When it comes to the fate of Klubrádió it is impossible for me to remain detached. Ever since 2002 I have been a faithful listener of Klubrádió along with about half a million people in Hungary and abroad. What brought me to Klubrádió, about which I had heard nothing earlier, was a call-in show that had been aired on the public radio channel before. I’m talking about the program of György Bolgár, a long-time associate of the Hungarian public radio who lost his job because the Fidesz-appointed president of Magyar Rádió liked neither Bolgár nor his program. I wrote about all this on August 16, 2007.

After nine and a half years of listening to “Dear Mr. Bolgár,” as his admirers call him, it is difficult to imagine life without my two hours a day devoted to “Let Discuss It” and therefore I refuse to bury Klubrádió. I don’t know yet what will happen, I don’t know how can we save the only liberal radio station in all of Hungary, but I believe that the half a million people who regularly listen to Klubrádió’s excellent programs cannot remain without their favorite radio station. It was especially moving today to listen to Bolgár’s program. The listeners, deeply saddened but at the same time outraged, expressed their hatred of a regime that simply cannot tolerate any dissent. What is Viktor Orbán afraid of?  After all, the decision to take away Klubrádió’s frequency must have come straight from the prime minister.

It has been known for a long time that Klubrádió is a thorn in Fidesz’s side. Viktor Orbán, for example, repeatedly refused to give an interview to Bolgár, most likely because he knew that he would have to answer hard questions. In general Orbán doesn’t grant interviews to opposition papers or other media outlets except when he really has to. For example, during election campaigns he even talked to Olga Kálmán of ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” (Straight Talk). But never to György Bolgár. So, we all knew that Orbán would find a way to get rid of Klubrádió.

 

Shortly before the elections Klubrádió applied for a frequency that had just become available. Surely, they were thinking ahead. After the elections when their use of 95.3MHz was coming to an end, they might have difficulty renewing their license under the Orbán government. They won the competition but because of the opposition of Fidesz members on the board their license for the new frequency was “tabled.” The board refused to sign the contract under the pretext that one radio station cannot broadcast on two different frequencies. In vain did the owner, András Arató, explain that naturally they will not broadcast on two different frequencies. They will relinquish 95.3 if they can have the newly won frequency. At the moment the case involving the ownership of this new frequency is before the court.

Then slowly but surely the campaign began to make Klubrádió’s life impossible. In February 2010 Klubrádió’s license expired, requiring the station to enter into a new competition for the same frequency. The tender for 95.3MHz was now explicitly for a “music radio station that presents some local information and values,” with maximum points being granted to stations with over 60 percent music and 25 percent local news content. Clearly, the Media Authority didn’t have KlubRádió in mind on this frequency. After all, Klubrádió’s programming consists of about 75 percent speech on matters of national politics. The tender was also ridiculous because most of the radio stations in Budapest currently broadcast music. So, why another one? We know why. So that Klubrádió wouldn’t be able to win the tender.

Meanwhile, the Media Authority extended Klubrádió’s license for only three months at a time. Thus the radio station couldn’t assure its advertisers that it would be on the air for more than a couple of months and advertisers usually commit themselves for a year. Klubrádió became so financially strapped that eventually they decided to start a fundraising campaign similar to the ones National Public Radio listeners are familiar with in this country. It was a novelty in Hungary and many people doubted whether Klubrádió would succeed in this endeavor, but Klubrádió has fiercely loyal listeners. Thousands and thousands of people “bought” twelve minutes of programming time for 12,000 forints. Today a woman phoned in from Debrecen who told “dear Mr. Bolgár” that this year the family didn’t go on vacation because they paid 48,000 forints in the last few months to help Klubrádió remain on the air.

Klubrádió, in addition to the 95.3 frequency that serves Budapest and environs, had two other frequencies–one in the Esztergom-Tatabánya region and another serving Debrecen. During the summer Klubrádió lost the Esztergom-Tatabánya frequency because the Media Authority raised the price and Klubrádió didn’t have the means to pay for it.

By mid-summer the fear that Klubrádió might have to close its doors reached such heights that 25,000 people signed a letter pointing out “the political and moral responsibility” of the Media Authority for presenting a tender for Klubrádió’s frequency that surely cannot be satisfied with the current owner of 93.5. The letter was signed by the very best of Hungarian society, writers, philosophers, professors, film and theater directors, and artists. The list of names can be seen in Népszava‘s July 7th issue.

And yesterday it happened. The new owner of 93.5MHz is Autórádió Műsorszolgáltató Kft., a company no one has ever heard of. No wonder because the company came into being only a few months ago. The owners started their business venture with one million forints or about $4,200. The majority owners are Hajnalka Tamás from Dunakeszi and Lajos Mészáros from Budaörs. Lajos Mészáros is a busy guy. According to Opten‘s list of Hungarian companies, he has been involved with or still is involved with sixteen different Hungarian ventures. Out of these three are being liquidated at the moment, two have already been liquidated.

Who can Lajos Mészáros be? But what is more important, who is behind Lajos Mészáros?

Tomorrow the loyal listeners of Klubrádió will join an already planned demonstration in front of the Magyar Rádió building. The original demonstration was organized to call attention to the lack of freedom of the media at the public televison and radio stations and the plight of those employees of Hungarian public television who have been on hungerstrike for two weeks. Now they will be joined by the supporters of Klubrádió who will sing along with a CD from a benefit concert held a few months ago for the radio station and will chant: “Hadd szóljon! Hadd szóljon!”–Let it sound, let it sound!

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Paul
Guest

When will the good people of the left wake up? Orbán doesn’t care about demonstrations, petitions or letters any more than he cares about democracy and fairness.
If he decides Klubrádió will go, it will go. I’m amazed he’s allowed it to carry on as long as it has.
But losing frequencies doesn’t have to mean the end, there are plenty of internet-only radio stations – a good example is Radio Caroline, the old British ‘pirate’ station from the 60s, which is still going strong on the internet nearly 50 years later.
Of course it will mean smaller, basic studios, staff working mostly for free, etc. But, if people really care about freedom of the airwaves in Hungary, they will do whatever they need to to keep Klubrádió going.

Member

Viktor really is becoming a “pocket Putin”.
I wonder whether it is technically/economically and legally feasible to set up a radio station just across the border in Slovakia, to broadcast to Budapest without government interference.

Ron
Guest

Paul, Hungary’s internet penetration is only 61% (2011), with a spectacular growth since 2000 (700 plus%).
http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats9.htm#eu
Analysis of the data of 1st half of 2009 reveals that only the young ones up to 49 years are regular using internet.
http://www.nrc.eu/eng/actual?page=details&oldal=1&news_id=562&parentID=1023
The UK internet use is much higher. And knowing that most of the internet is in cities and not in the country side I expect that only 3 million use regular internet.

Vándorló
Guest
Utter disgust for the disdain shown to democratic principles is what any decent person should feel. Which leaves me only to repeat and exchange I had with E.S.Balogh back on April 30th 2010 about the rádió-gate scandal. It was this scandal that led the respected lawyer Majtényi Lásztló to resign, allowing Szalai Annamária to take over his position. The disgusting thing is that many openly condoned the breech of law. ============= @ESBalogh: You condoned the MSZP-Fidesz actions over rádiógate that led to the resignation of an honest man, Majtényi László, over the scandal and now you are concerned that the puppet promoted in his place is continuing as expected? MSZP has 8 clear years to clear up government and put these matters well beyond Fidesz’s easy grasp. Instead they chose to work with Fidesz to stitch up the country, undermine democracy and spit in the face of honest people and their own laws. I’ve detailed the faux efforts and dishonest cover Gyurcsány provided as a smoke screen to continue as usual – the international organisations (plural) that walked away appalled by the inaction, lack of transparency or just plain disdain for democratic principles. Eight years, after which nothing changed. No-one… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

David, why not, it was possible in Berlin East and West, why should this not be possible in Komarno/Komarom. Whether you can reach Budapest, I am not sure. But the internet option appears the most ‘promising’ and that can be broadcast from any place in the world.

Ron
Guest

The Media Authority did not answer awkward questions.
http://www.noltv.hu/video/4062.html

GDF
Guest

Ron: “Hungary’s internet penetration is only 61% (2011), with a spectacular growth since 2000 (700 plus%)…Analysis of the data of 1st half of 2009 reveals that only the young ones up to 49 years are regular using internet.”
There is another issue: the majority of those under 49 do not listen to talk radio. They use the internet to listen to music. Those who really listen to a radiostation like Klub radio will simply loose the opportunity to listen to the opposition’s points of view.
Maybe they should demonstrate in front of the US embassy and petition for the reinstatement of the Hungarian language Radio Free Europe. After all that is what everyone was listening to under the similar circumstances of the communist totalitarian system. I am curious if the government still has the jamming equipment available…

Kirsten
Guest

Vandorlo, I am glad to hear that you have eventually managed to organise those honest Hungarians, who feel appalled by the politicians and political business as observed during the past twenty years and who are able and willing to run the country instead. I was always hoping that this will happen at some moment and now I read that you know of a large group of people who need not be pragmatic in ‘planet Hungary’ (thank you, Mutt) but who are true to their principles and know that this truthfulness is the basis of the new, democratic and clean Hungary.

Paul
Guest
Ron – that’s exactly the audience Klubrádió should be aiming at! Most of the rest are a lost cause, I’m afraid. David – it’s perfectly possible technically and has been done many times in different countries over the years (remember Radio Luxemburg?). Politically it might be a bit difficult, it depends on how well Hungary is getting on with the country concerned at the time, I suppose. The two real problems with such an idea are jamming and finance. Jamming radio stations is rarely done these days, but it used to be very common in places like the USSR (and even in the UK in the 70s the ‘pirate’ RNI was jammed by the British government). But it’s a relatively easy/cheap thing to do and impossible to get round. Finance is the real killer though. This is what finished off the UK offshore stations – no advertising, no station. And all the Hungarian government has to do is to declare it illegal to advertise on, or financially support, a station and that’s more or less it. Of course the same is true for an internet station, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to run. Although it can, of… Read more »
GDF
Guest

Paul: “Of course it will mean smaller, basic studios, staff working mostly for free, etc. But, if people really care about freedom of the airwaves in Hungary, they will do whatever they need to to keep Klubrádió going.”
The unfortunate truth is that even people who really care about freedom have to eat. Unless there is an organized opposition group that can raise funds to finances such an enterprise, without advertisement it is not viable.

Paul
Guest

Kirsten – it’s just a technical issue: the height of the mast (aerial) and the power of the transmitter.
FM transmission need more power than AM and needs to be ‘line-of-sight’ (i.e. you have to be able to ‘see’ (theoretically) the aerial), so it’s more expensive to reach any distance.
But, as a talk station, there’s no reason why Klubrádió shouldn’t go AM, then they could cover most of Hungary with a decent signal with a relatively small transmitter. Just 10kw would probably give a decent day-time signal in Budapest from just inside Slovakia. A 50kw transmitter would give a good signal over the whole country (and quite a bit of Europe at night!).

Paul
Guest

GDF – Radio Caroline runs almost entirely on subscriptions and donations, and has done so for at least 20 years. The sudios are rented, and the internet servers and connection, etc have to be paid for, but no staff are paid.
And I’m sure they aren’t the only station to run like this.
It just depends on how badly you want to stay on the air.
Just in case anyone’s interested – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/#home.html

Mutt Damon
Guest

It’s not only the finances. The Orban government banned the talk radios by requiring them to broadcast 60% music and 25% local news. Even if the funds were available the Klub Radio would have not qualify. By the way this phantom company offered a 20-30 million HUF more, that is about 150k US dollars.
I was wondering what would the AM broadcast cost. It’s a whole lot more expensive than the UHF band. It’s in the 100 million HUF a year range.
There is no better word for it. They banned the opposition’s talk radio.
@Vandorlo: What the hell are you talking about?? Are you sorry for the Klub radio or not?

GDF
Guest

Paul:”http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/#home.html”
And what do they say about themselves? “With our philosphy of quality album music both old and new and less talk, we attract listeners of both sexes predominately from the 35-54 age group.”
Yes, this probably works with music, I doubt it would work with talk radio.

Wondercat
Guest

Prof Balogh, is the Arató András involved with Klubrádió the leading paediatric gastroenterologist whom I value as a colleague? I should not be surprised to learn that the two men are the same — instead, delighted.

Paul
Guest
GDF – of course it would work with talk radio! Why on earth wouldn’t it? In some ways it’s even less expensive as there is no copyright fee to pay on the music. Also the studio and equipment doesn’t have to be as sophisticated. Mutt – If anything, AM is cheaper as there are lots of old (but still serviceable) AM transmitters around and they are much easier to service and repair (providing you can get the parts). The only problem with AM (apart from poorer quality, due to the lower bandwidth) is that you need a tall tower to suspend the aerial from – or a network of poles spread over quite a large area (depending on the type of aerial used). FM transmitters only require a small aerial, which, because they are usually only intended for local coverage, only needs to be at a medium height. Another point in AM’s favour is that there is a lot of spare capacity around. In the last couple of decades there has been a huge switch to FM, so many transmitter operators have spare ‘slots’, which they will often hire out very cheaply – so you don’t even have to buy… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

Ah. Prof Balogh, please neglect my question. I too late thought of a GOOGLE IMAGE enquiry. Different men, my Arato ur and Klubradio’s.

Guest
Interfering English democrat here again! London calling! (Very apposite in the above discussion if you know English history! – or even care!) It’s very sad when a respected broadcaster is silenced – especially a polemical one. I said in a previous response: “I am wondering – about how Orban is wondering – how he can put in measures that can control the Internet – a la China – I am sure it’s just around the corner.” It could well happen if his fingerprints are all over the fiat to close Klub. In London unofficial pirate FM radio stations have been the scourge of the emergency services – interfering with their transmissions. Very portable radio stations are set up at the top of blocks of flats to broadcast their selection of obscure hip-hop and other esoteric pop music forms. They are easily removed at the hint of a police raid and setup elsewhere – true urban guerilla radio! Very cheap and very powerful. Surely it won’t come to this? – But if it does then the flat flat flat Hungarian landscape would make detection very difficult and broadcast efficient? – well the Pest part if not Buda! Paul is correct –… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest
GW
Guest

Paul,
there are some major disadvantages to AM for Hungary — most cellphones with radio only have FM and many cars and portable radios dispense with AM altogether now.

Paul
Guest
GW – good point, and one I was going to make, but my post was long (and boring) enough already. It’s an interesting problem and has affected a few recent attempts to set up radio stations. (The most notable being Atlantic 252, which attempted to broadcast on long wave (low frequency AM) from Ireland to the UK – completely forgetting that most radios don’t have long wave these days!) It’s not just that radios often don’t have AM bands, but that people have got out of the habit of listening to AM because of the poor quality. These days in the UK it’s almost entirely reserved for speech, sport and ‘gold’ music stations. But there might be more AM radios in Hungary than you think. All radios up to, and shortly after, the change of regime would have had AM, and, knowing Hungarian’s dislike of throwing anything away, I suspect most of these are still lurking in attics and back rooms. But, as always, needs must. It’s still very easy to buy a radio with AM, and these tend to be quite cheap as well. So I’m sure that if Klubrádió started broadcasting on AM from (eg) Slovakia, the people… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Good link, Wondercat. I particularly liked “slow-motion coup” – very accurate.

Wondercat
Guest

http://kurier.at/wirtschaft/4478750-s-amp-p-senkt-bonitaet-ungarns.php
Another notch downward in Hungary’s credit rating, political manoeuvres having worsened the nation’s economic outlook…

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
One of the things which the communists tried was to instil into everyone their political beliefs. The Viktator (the Supreme Ruler) is not going to make that mistake. Politics in any shape or form is forbidden for the ordinary folk. They will have no way of sharing their views, and anyway their political opinion does not matter. One thing which I find surprising is that there is no regulation of the internet yet. One does not need a ‘Great Wall of China’ type system. It is much simpler than that. The basic idea is that internet users are using ‘bandwidth’. This ‘bandwidth’ could be better used by the ‘Administration’ for their own communications. Therefore the internet users are depriving the ‘Administration’ of this valuable commodity. To be able to use the internet, the private citizen should therefore require a licence. This licence would be issued when the prospective user has passed a test, produces suitable recommendation from an ‘Authority’, and pays an annual licence fee. The licence can be revoked at any time by the licensing ‘Authority’ for any reason (Including too much use). Without such a licence no ISP can give you service! The same could be true of… Read more »
Paul
Guest

The Forint is still holding firm(ish) – hovering around the 307 mark, no real sign of any impending collapse.
I still don’t understand why!

Paul
Guest

While I was Googling ‘samizdat’ publications, I came across a very interesting analysis of Hungarian press/TV/radio freedom 1988-98:
http://www.osi.hu/ipf/publications/PeterBL-PressFree.pdf
It’s long (and doiuble spaced!), but it’s worth reading. There are some interesting contrasts and parallels with today’s situation. And it makes you realise just how much was gained in 89 – and just how much has been lost 20 years later.

GabeGab
Guest

Paul is right, Klubradio should go AM, as most US talk radios have done. In Hungary families still own AM radios and if Klubradio couples this with a broadcast on the internet, they might reach a diverse demographics and get a reasonable coverage.

Member
What is the EU will do about this? Is Hungary member of the EU or not? I m sorry to say this, but the EU better to get their sh*t together because Hungary is making a laughing stock out of them. It is not about Hungary any more. It is not only about the money and economy any longer, and the EU better to rise to the occasion. AT this point in time they behave like a small start up company that just checking the by-laws and books to make sure whatever they do will be OK. It is not about the incompetence of Orban, Matolcsy and the peasant style of Deutsch. These people not only represent Hungary but they represent what the EU is all about. If they get away with what they are doing to freedom, it is the EU who is to blame. If they are successful in their attempts to silence the liberal opposition, than the EU with Merkel, Sarkozi, Redding and Barroso are noting more then little pawns on Orban’s chess game. So, I am sorry but I cannot blame Orban and his imbalanced friends no longer. THe man needs help as we all know… Read more »
Paul
Guest

The EU can do very little. It’s a bit like the Euro fiasco – the whole thing was based on the assumption that everyone would be good and behave.
Many years ago, I worked for Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market, and they had the same problem. Lloyd’s had always been run like a Gentleman’s Club, and all members were assumed to be reliable and honest chaps.
When it was discovered, some time in the 80s, that some members had been far from reliable and honest, Lloyd’s was hamstrung by the fact that it only had one sanction – to expell members. It could either do nothing, or chuck people out – nothing inbetween.
Lloyd’s is a corporation governed by an act of parliament, so a new act had to be passed (good job that most of the Tory party are Members!), allowing them to suspend and fine members who stepped out of line.
The EU needs something similar. But, until then, Orbán can do what he likes. The only thing that seems at all likely to stop him is lack of money. But I’m not convinced that even that will stop him.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@GabeGab “Paul is right, Klubradio should go AM”
I’m pretty sure that AM broadcast is significantly more expensive. 1-2 years ago the Hungarian Catholic Radio switched to FM because of this and you can imagine, those guys have money. They did it on the expense of loosing coverage. They claimed that the cost was in the several hundred million HUF per year range.
The broadcast also should be medium wave beacuse since the Radio Free Europe is gone (sigh!) nobody bought short wave radios.
I believe a satellite slot could be cheaper.
I know this is a smartass comment, but they should have raised funds to buy the license and agree to the “music radio” terms “temporarily”. Later when they could broadcast anti-government talk shows and when Porn Annie (media council) goes after them for not playing music, that would be easier to fight. Or not …

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