Gov’t film commissioner Andy Vajna’s Rádió 1 violates Hungarian media law, reports

December 29, 2017

Andy Vajna's Rádio 1 acquires broadcasting frequencies all over the country
Photo:ános Bődey

Translation of “Contrary to his claims, Andy Vajna is taking over Hungarian music radio” published in daily online

We prove through measurements that Andy Vajna’s Rádió 1, which dominates (commercial radio) in more than twenty cities, disregarded the media law and its own media service contracts. The radio hardly played any Hungarian music even though it agreed to devote 40 percent of its music program to this.

Presumably Andy Vajna requires no introduction. The billionaire government film commissioner and casino owner is among the hundred richest Hungarians. Since the third Orbán government was formed (in 2014), according to a list published by Marketing and Media, Vajna overtook the second most influential domestic media owner by acquiring first TV2, then Rádió 1 (which now controls more than twenty frequencies), then Lapcom, owner of print dailies Bors and Délmagyarország. Apart from those, the latest Vajna connected radio venture recently began, Retro Radio, which is the second radio station in Budapest connected to the government commissioner.

The government commissioner paid little attention to observing the law, however. With the help of our survey, we can prove that Vajna’s radio frequencies are consistent neither with the law nor his own commitments.

They make big commitments, and then neglect Hungarian music

According to our survey, the government commissioner’s radio, Rádió 1, which is operated by Radio Plus Kft. in whose background is an America tax haven, did not play nearly as much Hungarian music as it committed to in its own media service contract. Nor did it fulfill the (Hungarian music quota) stipulated by the media law.

Among other things, failure to meet the Hungarian media quota is problematic because the current system of tendering radio frequencies confers an advantage on those applicants who commit to broadcast a higher ratio of Hungarian music than their rivals. Failure to honor this commitment on their part essentially means they obtained an unfair advantage against their competitors.  This is also disadvantageous to Hungarian musicians because it becomes more difficult for them to distribute their songs. This is especially a problem in for example Salgótarján, Szombathely, Sopron and the Balaton region where there are no local radio stations other than Rádió 1 or its local partners. In this way, locals can at best access Hungarian music via internet radio or by listening in most cases to Petőfi Rádió.

This is a harmful development in terms of the development of modern Hungarian music.

Vajna said 40 percent

The media law also prescribes that linear media service providers devote 35 percent of all program time broadcasting music to presenting Hungarian music. This law applies to Rádió 1, which unequivocally counts as a linear media service provider. In fact, according to the official contract we obtained, Rádió 1 made an ever larger commitment. The contract stipulates that Radio Plus Kft. will devote a minimum of 40.5 percent of the daily and weekly music program time to broadcasting Hungarian music.

The media law also defines in detail what constitutes Hungarian music: the music must be performed by a Hungarian performer in Hungarian.  In other words, songs performed by Hungarian singers in a foreign language do not count.

This commitment was noted and taken into consideration when awarding Rádió 1 (the frequency). We were particularly curious whether they honor their own commitments. We recorded the sample broadcast in August, and we chose as a sample the period between Tuesday and Friday. In this we were assisted by the Hungarian subsidiary of the British firm Radio Monitor Ltd., which presently records the broadcasts of some 70 radio stations in Hungary, which it then analyses using voice recognition software.  Thanks to this, we were able to obtain Rádió 1’s entire music list.

For hours on end Vajna’s stations played no Hungarian music

It turned out that between 5 am and midnight, that is most of the day, the average ratio of Hungarian music remained under 7 percent. During the peak program hours 200-220 songs were broadcast, of which 10-15 were Hungarian.

During the examined period it also occurred that during the peak program hours Hungarian music was not played for five houus straight. Moreover, this took place during the morning hours that were most listened to.

During the day between 10 am and 7 pm on average one Hungarian song was played per hour, but it also frequently happened that no Hungarian songs were played for one or two hours. Only after 7 pm was there a bit of Hungarian music.

If they failed to do so during the day, Vajna’s radio stations try to meet their quotas with regard to Hungarian music at night and in the early morning hours (between midnight and 5 am). For this reason Rádió 1 plays exclusively Hungarian music between midnight and 5 am.  However,  the media law expressly forbids this trick of playing an unrealistic amount of Hungarian music at night, stipulating that the defined ratio must pertain to the program period between 5 am and midnight, that is during the day as well.

Moreover, when Vajna’s stations play Hungarian music at night, according to our calculations only about 50 percent of them satisfy the definition of a Hungarian piece of music, as only half are performed in Hungarian.

Rádió 1’s playlist between August 1st and August 5th can be accessed here:

The Media Council is an accomplice

At first we thought that the reason the Media Council does not investigate and punish this is because there is a passage in the media law that makes it possible for contracts concluded with the media service company to diverge from this, and for the government commission’s radio to lawfully neglect Hungarian music. We even posed this question to the Media Council and Rádió 1.  Rádió 1 did not answer.  The authority (National Media and Communications Authority, NMHH) wrote that, while it is possible to conclude separately the media service authority contract and the contract which allows the broadcaster not to fulfill the quota, Radio Plus Kft. had only concluded a media service contract. There is no contract on the basis of which it would not have to meet the quotas (stipulated in the media law or in its contract).

We can read in the authority’s answer that the Media Council did not award Rádió 1 an exemption from the Hungarian music quota.  In other words, Rádió 1 presumably neglected Hungarian songs unlawfully. At the same time, the body did not give an unequivocal answer as to whether the Media Authority is in the habit of examining whether Andy Vajna’s radio stations were following the law, or whether any punishment had been meted out. The answer we received from the media authority is that according to the media law all media service companies must satisfy the annual quota in their media services, and that this means the authority can only examine their operations over the course of an entire year. Considering that Radio Plus Kft. only began broadcasting on the 96.4 MHz frequency in Budapest on June 3rd, 2017, the (Media Authority) can only examine whether it fulfilled its quotas after 2017, claimed the panel.

The authority’s answer, however, strongly contradicts the opinion of experts we asked. They emphasized that in the case of Rádió 1 both calendar years as well as 365 days could serve as the basis for a detailed report given that every radio station must send a detailed monthly report to NMHH about its programs, including the ratio of music to words, the ratio of public interest words, and the ratio of Hungarian music. Rádió 1’s commitment to Hungarian music, which is part of Radio Plus Kft.’s media service contract, is rather high, 40.5 percent, which it clearly does not meet.

One expert we consulted expressed his astonishment by asking: “Isn’t it the responsibility of the NMHH to warn the media service company if it experiences such a disparity between commitments and fulfillment?”

Another expert said the following:

The practice of monitoring is that commercial radio is examined at least once every two years, and community radio once a year.  However, the examined period is never an entire year, but rather a couple of weeks “requested.” In other words, they have to send a CD of the programs broadcast during the weeks chosen along with a copy of the program plan. Moreover, this would not be required because for some time the media authorities have their own recording systems both in Budapest and in the county branch offices.  So they can examine any program at any time without requesting material.

We asked both NMHH and the Media Council whether they thought it strange that, despite committing to a higher Hungarian music ratio for the sake of being awarded additional points in the frequency tender evaluation, companies that do not broadcast Hungarian music for hours on end were winning radio tenders in certain cities connected to the Rádió 1 network.  To this the body responded that when evaluating the Radio Plus Kft. proposal the Media Council did not take general legal practice into consideration because it was the only applicant.

They also wrote that according to the media law local commercial radios (including the vast majority of radio stations in the countryside) are not required to fulfill the quota.

On the other hand, our expert warned that, while local radios are not required by law to fulfill the quota, the practice is not to award additional points in cases where the ratio of Hungarian music is less than 35.1 percent, while applicants offering to exceed this quota can receive an additional 5 points. This means applicants failing to commit to playing a high ratio of Hungarian music practically have no chance of winning a frequency.

The expert believers the Media Council’s answers are cynical because it is not possible to know beforehand when applying for a radio frequency whether the party in question will be the only applicant, and for this reason everyone plays it safe by agreeing to play a higher ratio of Hungarian music. Among the major county radio stations there is not one that had not at least committed to uphold the 35.1 percent quota. For this reason local radio stations must also meet the quotas undertaken in their applications and radio stations are effectively obliged to honor the quotas even though the law does not pertain to them. On the other hand, Rádió 1 operator Radio Plus Kft. is a regional broadcaster, and is therefore legally bound.

We also asked the Media Council what it thought about the government’s film commissioner’s radio station not playing sufficient Hungarian music according to the law, to which it repeated its first answer, to wit: that the question of whether or not it fulfilled its quota would be examined after 2017.