The Competition Council obliged RTL Klub’s broadcasting company to pay 20 M penalty for hindering merger control proceedings

On 30 June 2020, the Competition Council of the Hungarian Competition Authority upheld an earlier order imposing a procedural fine on the broadcasting company and operator of RTL Klub, Magyar RTL Televizió Zrt. According to the Competition Council, M-RTL continued to hinder the merger control even after a 45 day extension of the deadline that was granted due to the pandemic. The company impeded the control proceeding on the prospective merger of M-RTL and Central Digitalis Média Kft. (CDM), a website operator (of sites including startlap.hu., 24.hu, NLCafé, Házipatika.com, Vezess.hu stb.) by refusing to provide the requested data and causing a delay in the proceeding. 

The background of the case is that M-RTL Zrt.  established a purchase agreement to acquire CDM in 2016, but the Media Council did not authorize the transaction at the time, so it also prohibited by the Competition Authority. However, due to the Supreme Court’s decision following a review of the prohibition, the Competition Authority had to initiate a new proceeding in March 2020. In the course of new proceeding the Authority requested M-RTL to provide data on the actual market and the framework of the transaction in light of current market developments.  

Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, M-RTL requested a 45-day extension to provide data, which extension the Authority granted. However, after the passing of extended deadline the company informed the Competition Council that according to its own understanding the Competition Authority’s method of interpretation  of the definition of significant market is outdated by the sector’s current practice, and accordingly M-RTL refused to provide the data requested for the merger control and provided information that included substantial contradictions. According to the Competition Council, the conduct of M-RTL intentionally impeded the discovery of the facts essential to the control proceeding, resulting in a malicious delay of the control process.

The sum of 20M penalty was determined by the Competition Council’s consideration of the significance of data witheld by the company, the company’s capital and income, the severity of infringement, as set in the Act on Competition and Unfair Commercial Practices, Section 61 para (6) b) and c). When considering the sum of the penalty the Authority qualified M-RTL’s conduct to intentionally impede the discovery of facts, as an aggravating circumstance.