Is it time to revive RFE Hungarian? (updated)

Posted: 05 Mar 2012   Print   Send a link
Washington Post, 26 Feb 2012, Mark Palmer, Miklos Haraszti and Charles Gati: "In recent weeks, the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has frequently attacked Western media outlets but none more than CNN for its reports on the sorry state of Hungarian democracy. Hungarians can still watch CNN, but since January the network is no longer part of the package offered by Hungary’s largest cable provider. Klubradio, the country’s popular independent talk channel, has been even less fortunate. Despite widespread protests by its listeners, an effort supported by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the European Union, the government’s one-party Media Council has not renewed the station’s broadcasting license. Absent a last-minute reversal, Klubradio will be unplugged this spring. ... With the fall of Hungary’s Western-style, pluralistic democracy, the time is right for the United States to reinstate Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian-language broadcasts. ... A new Hungarian channel, by making full use of gifted editors and reporters in Hungary, should become a hub for quality journalism, a provider of inclusive debates and fair information, inviting to all and detached from all. By cultivating rational and civilized debates, it should be a wellspring for democracy and good journalism. It should not revive the confrontational spirit of the early years of the Cold War, nor should it even turn into an opposition channel broadcasting only 'bad news' that gets omitted by the official and semi-official media." See previous post about same subject.

The authors are certainly correct about avoiding the establishment of a "bad news" station.

So how is the goal of providing independent journalism to Hungary best accomplished? In 2012, Hungarians won't huddle around their shortwave sets. They probably don't even have shortwave sets. They might, in limited numbers, listen to a medium wave frequency from a neighboring country. The radio station would also be available via satellite and the internet, but this still would not attract mass audiences.

A website (with the obligatory accompanying social media outlets and mobile version) might seem more suitable for the present media environment. Again, the audience could be limited, especially because of the thousands of competing sources of information on the internet.

Many Hungarians have access to satellite dishes. A channel on one of the popular European satellites could bring audiences larger than those for radio or internet efforts, but would also cost more than the other options. If it is a commercial channel that succeeds in selling advertising, those costs could be offset.

Should this be an indigenous Hungarian effort, such as Klubradio using a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy and corresponding European organizations? On the other hand, the Radio Free Europe name does have stature, even if it also has a mixed historical legacy. The fact that RFE has been revived in Hungarian would itself send a message, inside Hungary and beyond.

Of course, some member of Congress, perhaps forgetting that there ever was an RFE Hungarian Service, will slip in an amendment calling for the resumption of a Voice of America Hungarian Service, with the result being we will have both VOA and RFE broadcasts in Hungarian.

Update: Washington Post, 2 Mar 2012, letter from Gyorgy Szapary, Hungarian amabassador to the US: "The writers suggested that CNN was dropped by one of the major cable companies because of government pressure. Senior management of that company, which is majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom, categorically denied this and said that it was a purely financial decision. Contrary to the writers’ claims, Klubradio, a station airing opposition voices, lost one of its regional frequencies in a transparent tender by offering less money than its competitors did. The decision was appealed, and the case is before the courts. Meanwhile, the radio station stays on the air."