In another example of muzzling to press freedom, more than 70 journalists and staff at Hungary’s top news site Index have resigned.
Dozens of journalists have walked out of Hungary’s top independent news site in protest at the removal of its editor-in-chief, as fears grow of government interference.
The announcement comes just two days after the company’s editor-in-chief, Szabolcs Dull, was fired. Employees had described the decision by the president of the board, László Bodolai, as “unacceptable”.
Index.hu is Hungary’s most-read news portal and a rare independent voice in a media landscape increasingly controlled by allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
On Thursday, Index held a staff meeting to request the reinstatement of Dull, which was “categorically refused”.
“His dismissal is a clear interference in the composition of our staff, and we cannot regard it any other way but as an overt attempt to apply pressure,” said Index journalists in a joint statement.
“The editorial board deemed that the conditions for independent operation are no longer in place and have initiated the termination of their employment.”
Index’ deputy editor-in-chief, Veronika Munk, told Euronews Hungary that Dull’s sacking was a direct reason for her decision to resign.
The website has long been a target of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who sought to exert more control over the country’s broadcast and media industry, according to Associated Press.
Over the past decade, supporters of nationalist and conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban have gradually taken control of Hungary’s independent media. Hungary is ranked 89th out of 180 countries on the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index
“The sacking of Szabolcs Dull was the step that made me think I can no longer do this job freely, following professional journalistic principles,” said Munk. “And I know that a lot of people among those who resigned think the same way.”
A march and rally are planned on Friday night in solidarity with Index.
In recent weeks the company said it felt its independence was “in danger” from external forces.
In 2018, Index set up an “independence barometer” to monitor editorial freedoms, after a change in ownership which led to a loss of trust between staff and management.
#Hungary, #PressFreedom – Two weeks ago, https://t.co/kNHENKtXlT came under such external influence that had put the staff and the site's independence in jeopardy. The danger has not subsided, here is the latest development:https://t.co/jvH9Zkkcdn
— Index.hu (@indexhu) July 7, 2020
Last month, the barometer was changed to “in danger” from “independent” after it was confronted by management plans to reorganise the newsroom, which the editorial staff strongly opposed.
Dull released a statement on Wednesday, saying he felt it was “no accident” that the editorial staff had felt endangered.
Political journalist Daniel Renyi said he had expected mass resignations and sections of the newspaper to disappear.
He told Euronews that the firing of Szabolcs Dull was “devastating”.
“It’s very difficult to imagine a free Hungarian media market without the Index we know.”
“Next year there might be more pressure on Hungary and Orban thinks this is the proper time to gain more influence in the independent media market,” said Renyi.
Hungary is also in the midst of EU proceedings over concerns that they are violating legal standards that threaten the independence of judges and press freedoms.
European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová said she has “big concerns” and expressed support for Index employees.
“I would like to express my solidarity with the staff of Index who has been working under very difficult conditions,” Jourova said earlier this month.
In a statement, the International Press Institute has also described the board resignations as “a devastating blow to journalism in Hungary”.
Index.hu has been described as the largest and most influential of the country’s remaining independent media.
“We’ve been saying this for years, written it down, shouted out loud that there are two conditions that guarantee the free, correct, and independent professional work,” Veronika Munk told Euronews Hungary.
“One is that there is no external influence on the content of the site, and there is no external influence on the composition of the staff.”
“They do not tell us what to publish on the site, and no one tells us from outside who to work with or not to work with.”
News Source: Euro News and Reuters