(Adds U.S. State Dept statement)
BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The European Commission expressed concern on Wednesday over media freedom in Hungary and Poland, both under investigation for flouting the rule of law, as Budapest shut an opposition radio station and Warsaw proposed a levy on private media.
Hungary’s Klubradio, which has been broadcasting for 19 years and whose political and talk show guests often criticise government policies, lost its broadcasting licence on Tuesday and will be forced off the air.
In Poland, many private media outlets went off the air on Wednesday, running slogans such as “This used to be your favourite programme”, in protest against a proposed media advertising tax they say threatens media independence and diversity.
Many privately owned Polish media outlets, which depend on advertising for their financing, are highly critical of the nationalist government, while state-owned media, strongly biased in favour of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, receive regular large injections of cash from the state budget.
“We have expressed our concerns about media freedom... in Hungary. The case of Klubradio only aggravates our concerns,” Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told a news briefing.
“We are in contact with the Hungarian authorities to ensure that the radio can continue to operate legally,” he said, adding that the Commission was checking whether the decision complied with EU law and that it would take action if necessary.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned about declining media pluralism in Hungary” and urged Hungary’s government to promote an open media environment.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Klubradio’s own management was to blame for its demise “by flagrantly disregarding broadcasting regulations”.
Poland and Hungary are both under EU investigation for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations.
But the EU procedure is slow, and some rulings by the bloc’s top court in specific Polish cases are ignored by Warsaw.
Wigand said the EU was also aware of the Polish draft law on private media, saying “we have seen the black screens”.
“We expect member states to ensure that their fiscal or other policies will not affect their duty to ensure a free, independent and diverse media ecosystem,” he said.
Under new rules passed last year, the Commission could suspend payments of EU funds to countries which do not adhere to the rule of law, for instance by not having independent courts, and in this way threaten the security of EU budget spending. (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski Editing by Gareth Jones and Lincoln Feast.)
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