Budapest – Dozens of journalists, including top editors, were resigning Friday from Hungary’s main news site because of the firing earlier this week of Index.hu’s editor-in-chief.
Close to 60 staff members of Index said they were leaving the country’s most-read website because the dismissal of Szabolcs Dull endangered its professional independence and its future. A march and rally are planned Friday night in solidarity with Index.
The website has long been a target of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who once called it a “fake news factory,” and the recent acquisition of control over the news site’s advertising sales by Orban allies was considered a bad omen for its independence.
Last month, Index moved its ” independence barometer ” to “in danger” from “independent” after it was confronted by management plans to reorganize the newsroom, which the editorial staff strongly opposed.
The change led to a loss of trust between staff and management, which felt that keeping the dial at “in danger” had a negative effect on the news site’s ad revenues, and led to Dull’s firing on Tuesday.
Friday’s resignations came after management refused to comply with the staff’s demand to rehire Dull.
Earlier this month, European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova expressed support for the news site.
“I have been following the situation of Index with concern,” Jourova said. “I would like to express my solidarity with the staff of Index who has been working under very difficult conditions.”
Press freedoms in Hungary have deteriorated greatly since Orban’s return to power in 2010, with the government exercising control over hundreds of publications through a foundation while supporting them with ample taxpayer funds regardless of viewership or readership figures.