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Top editor of Hungary's index.hu fired

July 22, 2020

The owner of leading independent news portal Index.hu has dismissed its editor-in-chief, Szalbocs Dull. Hungary's media landscape has been transformed under nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Screenshot index.hu
Image: index.hu

Index.hu Editor-in-Chief Szalbocs Dull was fired on Wednesday, the news portal's parent group said in a statement.

Index is seen as one of the last major independent news websites in Hungary, and a leading critic of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.

Read more: Can Hungary's biggest independent news website survive?

In June, Dull had warned Index was in "grave danger" and at risk of losing its independence.

"Index.hu, Hungary's largest news site and one of the few remaining independent voices, is in grave danger," he said, adding that a "proposed organizational overhaul" put the site "under such external pressure that could spell out the end of our editorial staff as we know it.

"We want a news site where politicians and messengers of the government or economic actors have no power to pull a story," he said.

Monitors in a TV studio show a test image of color bars
Hungary's media landscape has shifted during Orban's time in officeImage: Getty Images/Afp/Attila Kisebenedek

Pro-Orban businessman Miklos Vaszily bought a large stake in Index's advertising agency in March, prompting concerns over the future independence of the website. Vaszily previously transformed Index competitor Origo.hu into a pro-government outlet, but he has denied he wants to exert editorial control over Index.

Read more: Hungary: Law to fight coronavirus creates 'uncertainty' for journalists

A senior European Commission official expressed concern over the independence of Index earlier this month. "What you are doing, the values you are fighting for, media freedom and pluralism, are essential for democracy," said Vera Jourova, the European Commission's vice president for values and transparency, in a statement published by Index. "You can count on my support."

Jourova cautioned that profits should not be used as a pretext to influence Index's output: "While readership and audiences have been record high, revenues have been heavily hit. Economic pressure should not turn into political pressure."

Orban has transformed Hungary's media landscape since coming to power in 2010. Many public news outlets have turned into state organs, while his wealthy allies have bought up much of the private media sector.

Many independent outlets such as Index have either gone out of business or adopted more pro-government editorial lines after being acquired by pro-Orban business figures.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) cited a skewed media landscape and "restricted" access to information as part of the "adverse climate" in Hungary that helped Orban win re-election in 2018.

Fidesz tightens grip on media

dr/sms (Reuters, AFP)