Hungary: independent news portal Index at risk

After the dismissal of Szabolcs Dull, chief editor of Index, the media outlet's entire editing staff and over 70 employees have resigned in protest. In March a media entrepreneur with close ties to Orbán acquired 50 percent of the company that handles the outlet's advertising business. Thousands gathered in Budapest on Friday to demonstrate for press freedom. Commentators also voice their concern.

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Népszava (HU) /

Not enough people with courage

You can't put all the blame for such developments on Orbán and his entourage, comments Népszava:

“After the clear statement of the resigning Index journalists, many people should be ashamed: the Constitutional Court judges who allowed the Basic Law and their own court to be castrated, the collaborators in the public media, the 'dummy commissioners' who took the place of the ombudsmen, the professors who silently tolerated the abolition of university autonomy - all these people taken together were not able to muster the courage shown by the Index journalists, even though the price that they would have had to pay for it would certainly not have been higher. This increasingly oppressive system is also being built out of passivity and opportunism.”

Sme (SK) /

This affects us all

The end of Hungary's largest website is a cautionary tale for media workers in neighbouring countries, writes Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of Sme:

“ was one of the last independent Hungarian media, which for a long time resisted changing its genetic code from a critical website to a sheep in the Orbán media flock. Orbán has created the distorted image of a media market that nowadays only simulates plurality, systematically dries out independent media and puts enormous pressure on their owners. The end of Index affects all independent journalists in the region. We therefore express our support, our solidarity. Without independence and freedom of the press, the rule of law is lost and dictators become ever stronger.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Until the last lights go out

Eliminating the independent media is part of Orbán's strategy aimed at establishing an "illiberal democracy", comments political scientist Balázs Csekö in Der Standard:

“Orbán does not want to experience a tremour like the one that shook his allies in Warsaw in the Polish presidential election recently. ... Orbán's entourage already has its sights on its next targets. RTL Klub, HVG, and are the remaining big media outlets that are not yet toeing the government line. ... With the neutralisation of the most influential medium in the country, another torch of Hungarian public debate has been extinguished. Since Orbán took power a decade ago their number has declined dramatically. There are only a few left before complete darkness falls.”

Azonnali (HU) /

The battle will be decided elsewhere

Index and similar Budapest-based media aren't really all that important, Gábor Kardos writes in Azonnali:

“The decision to let Index's editorial team go was not at all in Fidesz's interest. For the ruling party, maintaining the status quo would have been much more advantageous: letting Index report critically within a given framework while refraining from publishing a series of investigative articles about the regime's really dark secrets. ... Index represented a small circle: Budapest's urban middle class. ... And whatever happens to such media is of little importance for the country's development. In this regard, the rural public and the quality of the rural press are far more important.”

Index (HU) /

Open pressure on the editors

The website's editorial team writes in protest:

“For years we've been stressing that for us two prerequisites are essential for Index to operate independently: there can be no external interference either in the content we publish or in the composition and structure of the editorial team. The latter condition was violated with the dismissal of Szabolcs Dull. ... Dull was let go because he made it clear that he could not be blackmailed. His dismissal is a clear interference with the composition of the editorial team. We cannot view this as anything other than an open attempt to exert pressure, and that will make independent editorial work impossible.”

Népszava (HU) /

This cannot end well

The calls for help of other editorial teams in Hungary have always proven to be justified, Népszava warns:

“While we read the contradicting statements by journalists and the management - which is not willing to call this carnage by its true name - we should remember that whenever an editorial team has warned that its independence is at risk, it has always turned out that they were right - regardless of who argued against it and on what grounds. ... The autonomy of the work of Index has not been jeopardised with the sacking of Szabolcs Dull. But his dismissal marks a new phase in a process in which the clear message is being sent that neither the will of the journalists nor the expected scandal count for anything at all.”