The suspension of the license of Hungary's last independent news radio station has drawn international condemnation, with the European Union and media watchdogs calling the move a further attack on democracy in the EU member state.
"We have expressed our concerns about media freedom and pluralism" in Hungary, which is already under investigation for flouting the rule of law, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said on February 10, a day after Klubradio lost an appeal to keep its license.
The case of the radio station "only aggravates these concerns," Wigand added.
Klubradio broadcasts mainly in Budapest. Its news and talk content is often critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.
In September 2020, Hungary's National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) refused to extend Klubradio's seven-year operating license, which expires on February 14, saying the station "repeatedly infringed" on the compulsory registration law by twice submitting documents late.
Such violations usually incur fines and the NMHH's announcement raised new concerns about political pressure from the government on the media in Hungary.
"Another silenced voice in Hungary. Another sad day for media freedom," Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic tweeted.
The Paris-based, media-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned "this major blow to media pluralism" and urged the European Commission to "stop delaying its investigation into [NMHH's] independence and state aid for pro-government media."
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Klubradio's management was to blame for the station's demise "by flagrantly disregarding broadcasting regulations."
On February 9, Klubradio's appeal at a Budapest court to force the NMHH to issue a temporary broadcasting license was turned down, taking it off the airwaves, though it will continue its programming online.
Calling the court decision "shameful and cowardly," Klubradio President Andras Arato said the radio station now plans to appeal the ruling to Hungary's Supreme Court.
The EU's Wigand told a news briefing on February 10 that the European Commission was "in contact with the Hungarian authorities to ensure that Klubradio can continue to operate legally," adding that it was checking whether the decision complied with EU law and would "not hesitate to take action if possible and necessary."
In a statement, Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF's European Union and Balkans desk, called on the European Commission to "delay no more in investigating [NMHH's] independence under the revised European directive on broadcast media, and in investigating the other curbs on press freedom, such as state aid to pro-government media."
Hungary is under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and nongovernmental organizations, and risks losing access to tens of billions of euros in funds from the bloc.
The EU member state is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Only Bulgaria, at 111th, is ranked lower among the EU's 27 member states.