Court: Media Council must reveal contracts with top TV stations

An appeals court has upheld a prior court decision mandating that the Media Council must disclose the terms of its contracts with Hungary’s two largest commercial TV stations, RTL Klub and TV2. Gabor Csuday, an editor at Kreativ magazine, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) filed the case against the Media Council after the Council refused to make public its new contracts with the two TV operators. RTL Klub and TV2,  which are both owned by German companies, appealed the first-instance court’s decision requiring the Media Council to provide the contracts.

In July 2012, the Media Council signed temporary contracts with RTL Klub and TV2 when their licenses expired. According to some reports, the contracts allegedly allow the companies to continue operating on their current analogue frequencies free of charge until the digital switch over—which was initially slated for completion by December 2012 but could be stalled through December 2014. The agreements between the Media Council and the TV companies were negotiated in what has been described as a highly non-transparent procedure

Csuday’s initial request for the contracts was denied by the Media Council, which claimed the contracts are protected by non-disclosure agreements. Csuday, along with TASZ, then filed a lawsuit against the Media Council on grounds that contracts involving public resources cannot be private. A first-instance court in July ruled that the Media Council must disclose the contracts. The stations appealed the decision.

The second instance court this week ruled that business secrets cannot be protected by confidentiality when it comes to public assets and that the Media Council must disclose the contracts.

RTL Klub and TV2 are Hungary’s most-watched TV channels, and together dominate the country’s TV broadcast market. In 2011, RTL Klub and TV2 earned a 27.9% and 19.5% audience share, respectively, compared to public channels M1 and M2, which had a combined market share of 11.6%, according to industry data. Both companies began operating in Hungary in 1997 and were given extensions on their contracts by Hungary’s former media regulator, ORTT, in 2005.

RTL Klub is owned by Magyar RTL (M-RTL), which is the property of RTL GROUP Central and Eastern Europe (RTL CEE), a subsidiary of German media conglomerate Bertelsmann. TV2 is owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt., a company currently held by MTM-TV2 Befektetési Kft.Netherlands-based Danube Broadcasting B.V. and P7S1 Broadcasting Europe B. V., which is a Netherlands-based holding company for SBS Broadcasting Europe B.V., a subsidiary of ProSiebenSat1 based in Germany.