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The 90 journalists from the Index.hu news site resigned on Friday to protest the dismissal of their editor and what they consider to be a further reinstatement of an independent media outlet in Hungary. </p><div> <p>Scuttling rather than suffering: journalists from Hungary's main news site collectively resigned on Friday, July 24, fearing they would lose their independence from Viktor Orban's government after the brutal dismissal of their editor.
A rare voice critical of power in a media landscape where pluralism has drastically regressed in recent years, the Index.hu portal risks not recovering from the departure of almost all of its editorial staff, some 90 journalists.
After editor Szabolcs Dull was fired on Wednesday, Index workers announced they were stepping down to protest “a clear attempt to put pressure” on their media.
Photos of journalists, looking upset and sometimes in tears following this decision, were posted on social networks. The stir was just as great within the opposition to the sovereignist government of Viktor Orban and the main association of journalists.
“It is still an essential institution of Hungarian opinion which is being dismantled, besieged and destroyed by the government majority of Fidesz” (party of Viktor Orban, editor’s note), reacted Miklos Hargitai, president of MUOSZ, the association of hungarian journalists.
A few thousand people demonstrated in Budapest on Friday evening in support of the editorial staff.
Hungary, 89e in the world press freedom ranking
Szabolcs Dull was fired after protesting last month against a proposal to redesign the site by its owners. “Index is a mighty fortress they want to blow up,” the editor summed up this week.
Wednesday, the management of the media had justified his dismissal by the disclosure in the press of internal documents to Index.
Fears about Index’s future emerged in March following the purchase of a 50% stake in the portal’s advertising agency by a businessman close to the government, Miklos Vaszily.
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The portal is one of the handful of websites that continue to claim editorial independence in Hungary, a country that ranks 89th out of 180 in the world press freedom ranking published by the NGO Reporters Without Borders. He was 23rd when Viktor Orban returned to power in 2010.
Under the mandates of the Hungarian Prime Minister, the public media became the relay for government policy while those close to power bought up whole swathes of the private media sector.
Media takeovers are on the increase
The changes within Index are reminiscent of the scenario of the takeovers undergone by other media outlets in recent years: the Origo news site, which regularly published inquiries implicating those close to the government, as well as the ex-benchmark economic weekly Figyelo, were acquired by people close to the Fidesz party, their teams reworked and their content aligned with government messages. Origo’s editorial staff had resigned to protest the new conditions.
At the end of 2016, it is the opposition daily Nepszabadsag, one of the country’s main ones, which ceased publication overnight before being bought by the oligarch Lorinc Meszaros, close friend of Viktor Orban.
In 2018, some 500 national and local media, all openly pro-government, were brought together in a consortium intended to “ensure the preservation of national values”.
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These transformations have earned the sovereignist leader, regularly singled out for his authoritarian and xenophobic leanings, numerous warnings from the European Union. They contributed to the launch, at the end of 2018, of an exceptional procedure for the risk of “serious violation” of EU values.
The question of the rule of law in Hungary was once again on the agenda of European leaders during the marathon negotiations on the recovery plan which ended on July 20. An imprecise and disputed compromise making the link between respect for the rule of law and payment of European funds was finally adopted.
Present in Brussels, Viktor Orban assured journalists that Hungary had nothing to be ashamed of with regard to these democratic principles.
The head of the Hungarian diplomacy Peter Szijjarto was annoyed Thursday of “false accusations” on the freedom of the press in Hungary, assuring, during a trip to Portugal, that the criticism of the government was exerted as well in the newspapers than on the Internet and on TV.