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Hungarian opposition radio wins court case

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — An opposition radio station in Hungary won a court ruling Wednesday in its bid for a broadcast license, but that was still no guarantee it could survive government efforts to control the media.

The Budapest Court of Appeals rejected a decision by the country's Media Council invalidating Klubradio's bid for a broadcast license, the latest in a long line of legal victories for the news-and-talk radio station.

Yet despite the rulings, the Media Council — whose members were elected by parties led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban — has repeatedly sought new ways to keep the station from gaining a long-term contract.

"The media authorities ... are capable of (doing) anything to ensure that Klubradio does not get a broadcast frequency or that if it does, it's under the worst possible conditions," said Gabor Polyak, a university professor and director of Mertek Media Monitor, an independent media watchdog.

The decision was repealed grounds of "serious procedural errors affecting the merits of the case."

Klubradio is the only major opposition radio station in Hungary and the Media Council's persistent efforts to shut it down have led to speculation about the council's motives.

"From a legal perspective, it's impossible to achieve Klubradio's disappearance, so there can only be political motivations behind it," said Klubradio managing director Andras Arato.

Because of the long legal process, Klubradio has been operating on temporary permits for nearly two years, crippling the station's advertising revenues. It's tenth consecutive, two-month temporary license expires Oct. 5.

Arato said the station was also being excluded from broadcasting state ads, an important source of income for Hungarian media. Funding for the station hoping to celebrate its 10th anniversary in December has come mostly through donations from listeners.

"Klubradio and its audience of several hundred thousand listeners are being bled and starved to death," he said.

In a brief statement, the Media Council said the court ruling Wednesday meant there were no valid bids for the broadcasting license in question, so the bidding process was void.

Earlier this year, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes mentioned Klubradio's struggles as an example of the Hungarian government's efforts to limit political debate in the media.

Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party swept into power in 2010 and have used their two-thirds majority in parliament to radically change Hungary's political, economic and social landscape.

The EU and the United States have expressed concerns about issues like press freedom in Hungary and the independence of its judiciary and the national bank.

"Klubradio has an established role among the voices that don't agree with the government," said Polyak, the media expert. "Klubradio's disappearance would clearly diminish the pluralism of opinions and the access to information in Hungary."