Support and Policy: The Subsidization of Community Radio Stations

The media policy objectives of the Media Council that can be gleaned from its frequency bids are plainly manifest in its subsidization policy. Intended to aid the financing of community program providers with their daily costs of operation (overhead), the tender has delivered three results to date: It has promoted the success of religious stations, instated a preference for high-priority bidders for frequency allocation, and displaced important community providers from the redistribution of public funds.

According to the records of the Media Council, nearly 70 community providers are active in Hungary today. Unlike commercial stations, community radios do not have to pay a media service fee but are required to devote two thirds of their programming to public service content, and may win contributions to their funding from the government by tender.

In 2012, the allocated budget of operating funds is HUF 150 million, of which each station may apply for HUF 7.2 million, and each small-community station for HUF 4.8 million for the year. The government will finance only up to 67% of a station’s pre-calculated overhead costs, and only 50% for those stations that have been subsidized for years.

Taking tally of the three concluded rounds of bids, we find that 45% of the funds awarded to date ended up on the hands of stations focusing on religious content. (Last year, these only represented 14% in the total.) As we have shown in a report on recent frequency bidding practices, one third of the newly advertised frequencies were allocated to religious stations. It seems that the Media Council goes the extra mile by pitching in toward operative costs in addition to allocating a frequency. The biggest winner, Európa Rádió, associated with the Calvinist Church, has received subsidies totaling some HUF 27 million, or nearly 20% of the total available budget.

Frequency winners Lánchíd Rádió and Mária Rádió were also successful in the subsidy tenders, and were awarded the maximum  available support for operating costs in 2012.

Just as the losers of the frequency bids were easy to identify, some of the stations that had been formerly subsidized now cannot be quite as certain that their applications will be granted again. For instance, Civil Rádió, which boasts a long tradition in community programming, has filed bids for each of the three consecutive tenders, but has been turned down each time. Tilos Rádió has done two rounds so far; on both occasions, its bid was rejected citing content-related objections.

The foregoing was published following the third round of bids. In the fourth round (April 18, 2012), the Media Council raised the amount of the total available budget and awarded subsidies to both Tilos and Civil — albeit lower amounts because they had not been found eligible until the fourth round.