Orban’s radio ban could spark fresh calls to kick Hungary out of EU

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One of Hungary’s last remaining independent radio stations has been forced off the airwaves and limited to online broadcasts after a court on Tuesday upheld a decision by the country’s media regulator not to extend its broadcasting license. The court dismissed a challenge by Klubradio – a liberal-leaning commercial station broadcasting in Budapest – to the September decision by Hungary’s Media Council. The council refused to renew the station’s claim to the radio frequency it used – a move that has led to accusations of Mr Orban’s government infringing on media rights and political bias among the body’s members.

Klubradio CEO and director Andras Arato called the court’s verdict “shameful” and announced plans to appeal at Hungary’s highest court, the Curia.

He said: “We are witnesses to a verdict that serves an endlessly cowardly, anti-democratic, illiberal system. It is not a surprise, but it is still sad.”

Hungary’s media regulator says it acted in accordance with the law when it refused to extend the station’s broadcast license.

However, the case has reinvigorated a debate over freedom of the press and outsized political influence in Hungary’s media market.

The European Commission has urged Mr Orban’s government to allow the radio station to continue broadcasting.

During an online press conference, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand confirmed the executive had sent a letter to Hungary’s permanent representation in Brussels on Friday expressing its concerns over the move.

Mr Wigand said the station’s loss of its broadcasting frequency had occurred “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds”, and that Hungary “should respect the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, information and the freedom to conduct a business”.

The Commission has asked Hungary to take urgent action to ensure that Klubrádió, a commercial broadcaster in the capital of Budapest, can continue using its frequency until final decisions become legally binding, Mr Wigand said, warning of “irreparable damage” to the station.

Hungary has not yet sent an answer to the Commission’s letter, the spokesman added.

As tensions between the two sides grow, it can be argued this row could once again spark fresh calls for Hungary to be kicked out of the bloc.

Not too long ago, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign affairs minister, said Hungary should have been forced out of the EU over its hardline stance on the refugee crisis.

Speaking in 2016, Mr Asselborn told Die Welt: “We cannot accept the founding principles of the EU being violated.

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“[Those] who build fences against refugees like Hungary does, or who violate press freedom and judicial independence, should be excluded temporarily or forever from the EU.

“It’s the only way to preserve the cohesion and values of the EU.”

Mr Asselborn added that a treaty change would have been “helpful” in order to allow EU membership to be suspended without the required unanimity.

If it had to apply today, Hungary would not stand a chance of joining the EU, he added, while accusing Mr Orban’s government of making serious mistakes and treating refugees almost like “wild animals”.

This month, the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, suspended its operations in Hungary following a ruling by the EU’s top court that the country had broken EU laws on protecting vulnerable migrants and refugees.

The agency said: “Following the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decision and after legal assessment and relevant consultations, Frontex has decided to suspend all its operational activities on the ground in Hungary.

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“Frontex looks forward to resuming its activities in Hungary after the CJEU decision is implemented in national legislation.

The suspension, which is likely to be in force until Hungary is again compliant with EU immigration laws, means about 40 Frontex staff including border guards will return to their home units, in Hungary or other EU countries.

The Court of Justice of the European Union said on December 17 that Hungary had broken EU laws on protecting migrants and refugees by denying them a right to apply for asylum and forcibly deporting people to the Serbian border.

The move, which legally requires Hungary to change its policy or potentially face fines, was the latest rejection by EU institutions of Mr Orban’s anti-immigration measures since a migration crisis in 2015.

The EU court rejected Hungary’s view that the migration crisis, when millions of people fled the Middle East and North Africa for Europe, was a justification for breaching EU rules in the name of public order.

During the peak of the crisis, Mr Orban ordered Hungary’s southern border to be sealed, blocking a route for hundreds of thousands of migrants and trapping people in so-called migrant transit zones on its borders until May this year.

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