Out of 90 editorial staff of Index, Hungary's largest online independent news outlet, roughly more than 70 journalists vacated their post in protest for the removal of their Editor-in-chief in an alleged government bid to tame their website.
Hungary has been reported by Reporters Without borders as the second-worst country for media freedom in the European Union. The landscape of the media in the country has a gradual shift when it allowed pro-government figures to bought out or shut down media outlets. Earlier this year, a businessman and a reported close friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán acquired 50% of the advertising agency of Index company.
Index Editor-in-Chief Szabolcs Dull had warned in his June 22 piece that the website’s editorial staff were “in danger”. He has been publicly vocal about the political interference in the outlet’s operations which cost him his role in the company. On Friday, 70 others and more including three leading editors, Attila Tóth-Szenesi, Veronika Munk, and János Haász, of the website ended their employment because the board president, Laszlo Bodolai did not reinstate Dull back to his role and as a support to their colleague an open letter on the portal’s website in Hungarian and English has been published.
Bodolai, in a letter to staff, denied the allegations that the company was brought under political control and remained firm that political independence of Index is not at risk. The EIC was fire because he could not control internal tensions, causing a drop in advertising revenues.
A demonstration, which organizers estimated to gather 5,000-10,000 people, was held last Friday outside the offices of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader in solidarity of the Index employees.
"We are not necessarily here because we liked Index but we are now at a point where accessing information is jeopardize," said one of the protester in an interview in a local news outlet.