Regulatory authorities

The Media Act established the National Media and Telecommunications Authority to replace the National Radio and Television Board created by the 1996 Radio and Television Act. This authority is also in charge of telecommunication, while media matters are managed by the Media Council of the authority, a body of four members, appointed by an ad hoc parliamentary commission. The council’s chairperson is also the Head of the National Media and Telecommunications Authority and of the Media Council. Currently, all members of the Media Council are Fidesz nominees. The Council’s chair, former member and MP of the Fidesz party Annamária Szalai, was appointed by the prime minister himself. The chair and the four members are elected for a nine-year term, reaching beyond two regular parliamentary cycles. Szalai deceased in early 2013 and was replaced by Monika Karas, a former lawyer who had worked for right-wing outlets such as the daily Magyar Nemzet, the 24-hour news channel HírTV and the news and talk station Lánchíd Rádió. Under the pressure of the European Union, the Media Act was amended in 2013 and the chair of the Media Council is now nominated by the President of the Republic, upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister (the current head of state being János Áder, a former senior Fidesz member).

The National Media and Telecommunications Authority is in charge of frequency distribution, among other things. The allocation criteria are not laid down in any legal document and the procedure is non-transparent. During the first 18 months of its mandate, it distributed 35 local radio frequencies, of which 18 were granted to pro-government stations (Mária Rádió obtained 7 licences, Katolikus Rádió 2, the protestant Európa Rádió 3, and Lánchíd Rádió 5). At the same time, the authority refused to renew the frequency concessions outside the Budapest area of the longstanding left-liberal Klubrádió, the last of the opposition voices on the air. In 2016, after the expiry of the frequency concession of Class FM, a music station owned by Lajos Simicska, former Fidesz cashier who had been involved in a conflict with the prime minister, the authority did not renew the license of the station. At the same time, however, it allocated several local concessions to Radio1, owned by Andrew G. Vajna and establishing a new network, covering half of the country’s territory. The authority is also in charge of content monitoring, and can impose fines of up to 200m forints (approximately 650,000 euros) on media outlets that breach the law. Commercial outlets have been regularly fined for airing explicit language as well as depicting ‘deviant’ behaviour such as drinking, smoking and sex, especially on their reality shows. In May 2011, for example, RTL Klub paid a fine of 144m forints (516,000 euros) after airing the Hungarian mutation of the reality show ‘The Real World 4.’

The 2010 regulation created a Media Service and Asset Management Fund (the ‘Media Fund’) to manage the funding of public service broadcasters. The director of the Media Fund is appointed by the chair of the Media Council. The National Media and Telecommunications Authority and the Media Council are thus in control of substantial financial resources. The law, however, does not specify allocation criteria for the Media Fund.

The 2010 regulation united Hungarian Television, Hungarian Radio, Danube Television and the Hungarian Wireless Agency in what is now called a Public Service Foundation. Almost all staff, rights and property of the public service broadcasters were transferred to the Property Management and Support Fund. Public service broadcasters are managed by boards of trustees which consist of a chair and seven members and elect the directors-general. The chair and one member are delegated by the Media Council, three members by the governing parties, and three by the opposition parties. However, as the number of employees of each of the three public service broadcasters has been reduced to only 49 people, transforming these into ‘shell companies,’ neither the directors-general nor the boards of trustees have much influence on production and programming. The law outsourced the production of the three public service broadcasters’ news bulletins to the Hungarian Wireless Agency and that of other programmes to the Property Management and Support Fund, the latter being accountable to the Media Council.