The editor of Hungary’s most popular news website warned Sunday (21 June) that a planned overhaul would jeopardise its freedom to publish stories critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.
“Index.hu, Hungary’s largest news site and one of the few remaining independent voices, is in grave danger,” said editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull in a statement posted on the site.
Dull said that a “proposed organisational overhaul” put Index “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 without elaborating.
“The next couple of days will determine the fate of Index,” he added in his statement, to which several dozen of its most prominent journalists added their signatures.
Another news site, 24.hu, on Sunday reported details of the plan that included outsourcing much of Index’s content creation, with current staff possibly in the firing line.
According to 24.hu sources, Index management blame the planned changes on a slump in advertising revenue caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The development follows the purchase in March of a 50% stake of Index’s advertising agency by a powerful pro-Orbán businessman Miklos Vaszily.
Vaszily told local media then that he hoped Index would stay influential and independent, but some staff and analysts saw the purchase as a threat to the site’s autonomy.
Since coming into power in 2010, the nationalist Orbán has transformed Hungary’s public media into government propaganda organs while allies have steadily bought up swathes of the private media sector.
In recent years outlets like Index that covered political scandals have either gone out of business or been bought by government allies and rapidly adopted pro-Orbán editorial lines, while receiving lucrative flows of state advertising.
The lopsided media landscape and “restricted” access to information in Hungary was cited by election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as part of an “adverse climate” that helped Orbán win a third consecutive term as premier in 2018.