More than 70 journalists have resigned from the about 90-member editorial team of Index, Hungary’s leading independent media outlet, in what is being described as a devastating blow to the country’s free press and media plurality.
Deputy lead editors Veronika Munk and János Haász, as well as managing editor Attila Tóth-Szenesi, along with a majority of journalists, all left the company on Friday (24 July), after László Bodolai, Chairman of the board of trustees of the foundation that owns Index, refused to rehire the editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull.
Yesterday the editorial staff unanimously asked to reinstate Dull after he was sacked on Wednesday (22 July).
Dull was booted off Index’s management board for publicly warning a month ago of a planned overhaul that would jeopardize editorial freedom, setting the website’s internal independence barometer to amber alert.
Bodolai cited Dull’s inability “to stop or control the internal processes that adversely affected the market situation” as reasons for his firing.
Hungary ranks 89 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom index, trailed only by Bulgaria in 111th place in the EU.
Hungary occupied rank 23 when the ruling Fidesz party at the helm with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010.
According to 444.hu, when asked about press freedom during a joint press conference with his Portuguese counterpart on Thursday, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said: “To constantly, unjustifiably question without evidence in its democratic nature, a country, a nation, is unacceptable.”
Szijjártó added that the government cannot have anything to do with the decision of a private company.
European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, earlier this month expressed concern and solidarity with Index, telling staff “you can count on my support.”
“Jourová should put her words into action and if the EU Commission is serious about protecting common values in member states, it needs to step up its efforts to ensure that Hungarian journalists can do their work without political pressure or editorial influence,” Lydia Gall, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher said in the statement issued by the rights watchdog today.
The International Press Association expressed solidarity with the journalists, including a number of Brussels-based reporters who were among those who left Index today.
Stefania Kapronczay, executive of director of the prominent civil rights organization Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) said “Index has been a source of information for many hundreds of thousands of people, many of us are seriously sad that it is over.”
“At the same, the joint resignation of the journalists is a stance that gives hope the spirit of the independent press will live on,”.