Independent radio station Klubradio “has found itself at the center of what its director, Andras Arato, calls a government-backed war to weaken and silence the station,” writes Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times:
The clash has become emblematic of what critics call a bald attempt by the [Premier Viktor] Orban government to tighten its grip on the news media, the judiciary, the central bank and education, and the inability of the European Union, which Hungary joined in 2004, to restrain a government not cleaving to the bloc’s democratic standards.
Orban, a charismatic father of five whose bold call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary in 1989 made him a regional hero, is now being recast as an authoritarian intent on eroding the checks and balances of democratic government. Since coming to power in 2010 with a two-thirds majority, he has adroitly tapped into widespread discontent with a post-1989 order that many Hungarians feel has failed to deliver on its promises.
Hungary’s news media council had denied the station a broadcasting license, until “late last week — after the fourth court ruling, a grass-roots campaign by thousands of listeners and mounting international pressure — the council finally backed down and awarded Klubradio the long-term frequency,” Bilefsky writes.
The case is the latest example of an authoritarian drift that has prompted some commentators to describe Orban’s Hungary as Putinism’s ‘first ideological outpost’?
“Under Communism, there was one state channel, and the government could stop it,” said Akos Balogh, editor in chief of Mandiner, a liberal Web site. “But now if you try and block anything, it will just come out some other way. So the reaction to the media laws is as exaggerated as the law itself.”
Hungary’s democratic regression is also causing alarm within the European Union and EU member states.
The country’s parliament recently passed constitutional amendments limiting the powers of the constitutional court in a move which observers believe will undermine democratic checks and balances, and enhance the authoritarian drift under Orbán.
With its current constitutional setup, Hungary would never have been admitted to the Union, Peter Hack, professor of constitutional law at the Budapest university ELTE, tells the Times:
“But now that it’s in, it thinks it can do what it wants.”