Hungary b’cast ban eased

U.S. moguls, long barred from Hungary’s radio and TV airwaves by a 1989 ban on private broadcasting, may now have an opportunity to infiltrate the market of the Carpathian Basin, analysts say.

In recent days, the Hungarian government partially lifted parliament’s long-standing ban on private broadcasting, and passed a law defining the management of TV and radio frequencies in post-communist Hungary.

Both announcements were welcome news to media investors interested in Hungary’s TV market of 2.7 million homes, and who are hopeful that these events will be the precursor to a larger law that will bring order to Hungary’s chaotic broadcast sector.

“This frequency law is supposed to be a forerunner, and the basic precondition to a (comprehensive) media law in Hungary,” said one analyst. “In that sense it is a step forward.”

But according to media watchers it is unclear whether this forward movement is a leap or a baby step.

One reason is the end to the ban only applies to local markets with a population of 100,000 or less. But this crack in the door will provide opportunities for 100-120 private broadcasters.

Although tenders for competition will officially be announced in mid-May, 200 private broadcasters already have reportedly applied for these licenses. Hungary’s Ministry of Culture will select the successful candidates. The first broadcast licenses will be issued in September.

But why did the government not fully lift Hungary’s stifling frequency moratorium? Analysts state that parliament will not end the ban until a comprehensive media law is passed by the government.

In the meantime, say some analysts, the easing of the moratorium was an attempt by the government to jump-start Hungary’s private broadcast industry, and generate short-term activity in one sector of the market. But according to others, the government’s decision is merely a political bid to exert control over local broadcasting.

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