Hungarian opposition radio forced off air as loses licence renewal case

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A Hungarian opposition radio station lost an appeal against the removal of its licence on Tuesday, cutting by one the already dwindling ranks of media outlets critical of the country’s nationalist government.

Slideshow ( 5 images )

The media authority said in September it would not renew Klubradio’s licence due to what it called a string of regulatory offences by the station during a seven-year licence term that expires on Sunday.

Klubradio, broadcasting for 19 years and whose political and talk show guests often criticise government policies, will be forced off the air then, after a Budapest court on Tuesday rejected its appeal against that decision.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s growing control over Hungary’s media is one of several issues behind strong criticism from the European Union over what it considers the erosion of democratic standards within the country, criticism that his government rejects.

Judge Regina Antal told the court the two offences committed by Klubradio meant “the Media Council had no room to deliberate” over whether to renew the licence.

The station has said it was twice late with filing reports on programming content, a mistake made by other broadcasters whose licenses had nevertheless been renewed.

The court’s decision, which Klubradio board chairman Andras Arato said it would appeal, means it will be able to operate online only from Sunday.

“The media space that is independent from the governing party continues to shrink significantly, and this (case) is another important step in that process,” Agnes Urban, analyst at Mertek Media Monitor think-tank said.

Under Orban, state-owned broadcasters have become little more than government mouthpieces, while several other media outlets have been shut or taken over in recent years by government-friendly owners.

Orban had called for an increase in Hungarian ownership of the country’s media and said last week this had increased to 55% from 34%.

Reporting by Anita Komuves; editing by John Stonestreet