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HCLU says Media Council awarded radio frequencies unlawfully

Hungarian media watchdog Mérték Médiaelemző Műhely has won a lawsuit against the country’s Media Council, forcing the state-run media regulator to hand over documents which show the Media Council used discriminative practices to distribute radio broadcasting licenses, reports Hungarian news site Index.hu.

Mérték, represented by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), fought in court for two years to obtain the documents.

In the autumn of 2013, Mérték requested to see documentation related to the media regulator’s decision to distribute radio frequencies in 2012. Many media experts questioned the 2012 distribution due to suspicions that the tenders to acquire radio frequencies were discriminately judged and arbitrarily evaluated. During that period, the media regulator rejected about half of the frequency tenders for arbitrary reasons. 

The Media Council refused to respond to Mérték’s Freedom of Information requests. Representing Mérték in court, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union managed to win the two-year lawsuit against the Media Council, at the end of which Hungary’s highest court, the Kúria, ordered the Media Council to produce the documents.

The Kúria stated that the Media Council cannot deny access to the requested documents on grounds of “corporate secrecy” because the frequencies themselves represent assets of the state which must be accounted for.

Based on the documents obtained by Mérték, it is clear that the Media Council employed a double-standard when evaluating tenders, overlooking obvious oversights and omissions in the case of certain tenders but seizing on the slightest mistake to disqualify others. 

One example of such discriminative practices is that of independent radio station Klubrádio whose tender was rejected for arbitrary reasons, while other tenders were not held to the same rigor.  

The same arbitrary method was used last year to deprive independent Tilos Radio of its frequency and award it to a rival radio station.

According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Media Council grossly abused its legal role and thwarted freedom of the press when it arbitrarily restricted access to the competition of acquiring radio frequencies.

The civil rights organization says there are two possible explanations for the Media Council’s actions: either the Media Council deliberately discriminated against Klubrádió’s radio frequency tenders, or the Media Council deliberately awarded radio frequency tenders to organizations that did not conform to the requirements.

Regardless of which of the two possible explanations is true, says the HCLU, the Media Council broke the rules to redraw Hungary’s radio market.

Benjamin Novak :