BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The editor-in-chief of Hungary’s largest independent news site, Index.hu, was fired Wednesday, a move seen as further risking the publication’s independence and journalistic integrity.
Last month, Index moved its “ independence barometer ” to “in danger” from “independent” after it was confronted by management plans to reorganize the newsroom, which it strongly opposed.
In a note posted on Index, over 90 staffers said they could not consider the firing of Szabolcs Dull as anything “but an open attempt to exert pressure” which will make independent work in the newsroom impossible.
“This decision is unacceptable for us,” the staffers said. “We’ve been saying for years that we consider two things as conditions for the independent operation of Index — for there to be no external meddling in the content appearing on Index or in the composition of the newsroom.”
Index is among a handful of independent media outlets which have suffered financially and seen their freedom to operate curtailed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts to control an ever larger segment of Hungary’s media.
“My message continues to be that Index is a mighty fortress that they want to blow up,” Dull said in a farewell speech in the Index newsroom, a video of which was posted by the 444.hu news site.
Dull later said he was told by Laszlo Bodolai, who leads the foundation that owns Index, that he had been fired because of the decision to move the “independence barometer” and because of the announcements he wrote explaining the motivation behind the decision.
“It was not without reason that Index’s staff felt in danger, and it was not without reason that I decided to move our independence barometer,” Dull said in a statement published on Index.
In a 2020 global survey of media freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Hungary fell two spots to 89th place among 180 countries. It was in 56th place in 2013.
Reporters Without Borders cited Hungary’s distorted media market in which hundreds of pro-government news outlets were consolidated into the huge Central European Press and Media Foundation. The editorial content of the foundation, known by the Hungarian acronym KESMA, is under tight political control and receives ample government funding.
In the last several years, numerous publications have been shut down as a result of Orban’s steps to increase his and his Fidesz party’s media dominance. They include Nepszabadsag, a key left-leaning daily, and Heti Valasz, a conservative weekly founded with Orban’s support in 2001 but which increasingly resisted pressure to toe the government line.
State media — especially the news content across its television and radio outlets and a news wire — has all but lost its public service mission while morphing into a key element of the government’s propaganda machine.