BUDAPEST – Chief of biggest independent news portal sacked

The editor-in-chief of Hungary’s leading independent media outlet Index, Szabolcs Dull, was dismissed on Wednesday (22 July), raising fears of deteriorating press freedom in the country ruled by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a self-proclaimed believer in “illiberal democracy”.

Dull was booted off the Index’s management board for publicly warning a month ago of a planned overhaul that would jeopardise editorial freedom and setting the website’s internal independence barometer to amber alert.

Two days later, the news website’s CEO András Pusztay resigned, while his replacement, Zsolt Ződi, exited only a week later, saying that the changes that needed to be carried out were too big a task for him.

Dull’s inability “to stop or control the internal processes that adversely affected the market situation” was cited as the reason for Chairman Bodolai László of the board of trustees of the foundation that owns the news portal to fire him.

Last month Dull protested against a proposed overhaul of the news site by its owners, declaring its independence to be at risk due to “external pressures”.

He said the site’s freedom to publish stories critical of Orban’s government was “in grave danger”.

In response of the dismissal, staff wrote a joint letter, which garnered around 100 signatures as of late Wednesday.

“This decision is unacceptable to us,” they wrote, adding that “the only thing Szabolcs Dull could not control was how László Bodolai tried to force us to move the barometer back into the green zone by blackmailing us with austerity measures.”

“In fact, the reason for Dull’s dismissal was that he made it clear that he will not yield to blackmail,” they added.

“It is no accident that the editorial staff of Index felt in danger, and it was no accident that I decided to change the barometer of our freedom,” Dull said in a statement after his dismissal.

European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, wrote a letter to Index at the beginning of the month expressing solidarity with the staff, who according to her “have been working under very difficult conditions.”

“I have been following the situation of Index with concern,” the Czech Commissioner said.

(Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)

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