Liberal broadcaster Klubrádió to go off the air after court ruling

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Radio broadcaster Klubrádió 92.9 FM will go off the air on Sunday after a court in Budapest rejected its challenge to a decision by Hungary's media regulator not to extend its broadcasting license.

The court upheld a decision by the Media Council not to grant automatic extension of the license when it expires on Sunday, arguing that the Council had acted legally since Klubrádió had committed "repeated infractions" of media law. Director and CEO of the liberal station, András Arató, said the company would take the case to the Curia, Hungary's highest court, and continue broadcasting online in the meantime.

In a tweet, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, reacted to the ruling.

The Media Council held that Hungary's media law does not allow for an automatic license extension if a station commits the same infraction twice in a one-year period. In 2017, Klubrádió was twice late in providing the media authority with data on its programming content as required by law, the Council argued. The court found that Klubrádió had paid fines for those infractions but did not contest them, making them legally binding. 

Arató argued that at the time of the infractions, there was no deadline for providing programming data, and called it "absurd" that "two such delays could become an excuse to deprive hundreds of thousands of people of their chance to listen to the radio."

"The [infraction] was so serious that the fine was HUF 30,000 (€84)," Arató said. "I don't know of any media that would go to court over an €84 fine since the first appearance costs more than that." 

The station also argued that the Media Council had acted discriminatorily, claiming that other stations had committed the same or worse offenses but still had their licenses extended. The Council is a five-member body, and each of the current members were nominated by the ruling Fidesz party.

Klubrádió's Budapest studioFotó: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP

Klubrádió has re-applied for its frequency on an open tender along with two other competitors, both of which have since been disqualified. One of the bidders has appealed its disqualification, leading to the suspension of the tendering process which could take up to a year to resolve. Arató said the station going off the air was "temporary."

Several foreign departments and numerous international media outlets reacted to the case, including Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, who wrote in a statement

"We are deeply concerned about declining media pluralism in Hungary. The imminent loss of the broadcasting license of one of the country’s most popular radio stations, Klubradio, threatens the departure of yet another independent voice from Hungary’s airwaves... The United States believes that a diversity of independent voices and opinions is essential to democracy, and we urge the Government of Hungary to promote an open media environment."

Sputnik V vaccine to be administered in Budapest

Doctors in Budapest are set to begin administering the Russian Sputnik V vaccine this week, but will not give the jabs to those with underlying health conditions or who are over the age of 75.

On Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said at a press conference that "minor uncertainties" concerning the vaccine's documentation led authorities to determine that it should not be given to those with chronic diseases. The Emergency Task Force has asked 560 doctors in Budapest to choose five patients each who are under the age of 75 with no underlying conditions to receive the vaccine.

The 2,800 doses of Sputnik V currently approved for use are from a delivery received in December. While Hungary's medicines regulator approved the vaccine on January 21, the 40,000 doses that arrived early this month have not yet been given final approval by the National Public Health Center.

Fotó: Saeed Kaari/Anadolu Agency via AFP

A survey of 1,000 Budapest residents by pollsters Medián and 21 Research Center found that around half of capital residents plan to receive a vaccine, while 37 percent are unsure but likely to be vaccinated. This is somewhat higher than a national survey conducted in January by the Central Statistical Office, which found that 67 percent of Hungarians are certain or likely to accept a vaccine. 

Of Budapest residents willing to be vaccinated, 84 percent would choose a western vaccine, while 43 percent would choose Sputnik V and 27 percent the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Wednesday said his government would only use a vaccine not included in the European Union's common procurement program, including Sputnik V, if it has been approved by the bloc's medicines regulator EMA. The announcement came after Babis visited Budapest last week where he conferred with Prime Minister Orbán and health officials on their experiences with Russian and Chinese vaccines.

Early signs indicated that Sputnik V could ultimately receive approval from the EMA, and on Tuesday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund which financed the vaccine's development announced that it had submitted an application to the European agency to assess the drug. But in a statement on Wednesday, the EMA denied it had received an application.

Covid deaths and infections on the upswing as government plans to introduce "immunity document"

Hungary's government plans to introduce a document attesting citizens' immunity to the coronavirus, the prime minister's chief of staff Gergely Gulyás announced at a press conference on Thursday. 

The document will be available to:

  • those who have received a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. This document would contain no expiry date but would indicate the date of the second vaccination.
  • those who have recovered from the coronavirus in hospital OR have received a positive PCR test and later received a negative test OR have received a positive test and quarantined for 10 days.
  • those who can provide documentary proof of a blood test that shows the presence of antibodies. This document would be valid for four months. 

Gulyás did not give details on what special rights would be afforded to those who possess the document. 

At the press conference, Gulyás said that the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, of which Hungary has purchased 5 million doses, cost more than HUF 10,000 (€28) per dose - substantially more than the Russian Sputnik V vaccine which Hungary purchased for roughly HUF 5,700 (€16) per two doses. It is unclear whether Gulyás meant each Sinopharm dose costs HUF 10,000, or the price referred to the two doses necessary for full protection.

On Thursday, 1,862 new cases of the coronavirus were registered in Hungary, the highest daily total since January 14. There were 97 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 87 per day, the highest since January 25.

The steady downward trend since December for nearly all pandemic indicators has stagnated or reversed, suggesting the more transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom could be contributing to rising numbers even as measures to mitigate the virus' "second wave" appear effective. However, the Emergency Task Force does not release data on what proportion of new infections are the result of the British variant.   

Legal complaint filed against Chief Medical Officer for abuse of office

Chief Medical Officer Cecíila Müller became the target of criticism by some opposition politicians after she sent an email that was, apparently unintentionally, delivered to independent MP Ákos Hadházy

Hadházy, who runs website which investigates cases of possible government corruption, sent a letter to the National Public Health Center, which Müller heads, requesting details of a HUF 17 billion EU-financed project. After two weeks, the Center replied that it would extend the deadline of responding to the data request by 45 days, as allowed by the special legal order imposed by the government during the coronavirus state of emergency. The Center told Hadházy that complying with his request for the data "would jeopardize protection against the pandemic." 

Later, Müller wrote an email to her colleagues, criticizing them for referring to pandemic protection as a justification for delaying the data request. 

"Dear colleagues, do we not have better words than this?" she wrote in the email. "Why do we have to write this 'jeopardizes [pandemic protection]' into the letter? Why can't we simply refer to the regulation, and say that we're extending the data provision by 45 days and that's it? Thank you very much, Cili."

Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller

In a Facebook post, Hadházy wrote that he had accidentally been included in the recipients of Müller's email, and alleged that it was proof that authorities were abusing their power and using false justifications to extend data provision deadlines.

"[Müller] admits that in a formal letter to a Member of Parliament, she lied using a false excuse to illegally delay the transfer of information," Hadházy wrote. 

On Monday, independent MP Bernadett Szél filed a legal complaint against Müller for abuse of office, arguing she had illegally withheld data of public interest. 

According to the special legal order, Szél wrote, "data may only be withheld if it is probable that fulfilling the request 'would jeopardize...the performance of tasks related to the state of emergency.' With Cecília Müller, the extension not only happens automatically without consideration of the risk, but in fact in the knowledge that there are no legitimate reasons for the extension,” Szél wrote.

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