Budapest, Hungary – Index, the leading independent news portal in Hungary, suffered a fatal blow this week after several key reporters handed in their resignations due to the firing of the former editor-in-chief, Szabolcs Dulla, on Wednesday.
The sacking of Dulla comes only a few weeks after Index warned that its independence was in danger due to “external pressure that could spell out the end of our editorial staff as we know it”. Signed by dozens of employees of the popular news site, the statement, released in June, pointed out that the government’s attempt to further tighten its grip on national media outlets presented a clear threat to “those values that made Index.hu the biggest and most-read news site in Hungary”.
Although a shock for those who saw Index.hu as one of the last remaining independent outlets in Hungary, the sacking of its chief-editor and resignation of several journalists did not come as a surprise after controversial investor Miklos Vaszily, known for his close links with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, acquired important control over Index earlier this year.
According to the company, Dull was fired for being unable to manage and defuse internal tensions following Vaszily’s arrival. “The main thing is for everyone to show self-restraint. The political independence of Index is not at risk”, claimed Laszlo Bolodai, head of the foundation which control’s Index.hu Zrt, the platform’s publisher.
In an open letter, Index staff disputed this version, arguing that the firing of the editor is “unacceptable” and violated the site’s ability to function independently.
According to the statement, Dull was fired because of his refusal to “yield to blackmail” and external pressure. “His dismissal is an indisputable intervention in the composition of our staff, and we cannot regard it in any other way but as an overt attempt to apply pressure on Index.hu that will result in the decline of independent reporting”, it concludes.
According to the latest freedom of the press report compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Hungary has fallen to its lowest ever ranking: recording its sixth consecutive decline, Hungary is now ranked 89th out of 180 countries, the second lowest among EU member states.
With the independence of one of Hungary’s leading news sites now in serious jeopardy, the free-fall might unfortunately not be over.