Thousands took part in a march in Budapest, expressing solidarity with the editorial staff of Index.hu, Hungary’s most-read news site whose editor-in-chief was fired on Wednesday, with nearly all other staffers resigning on Friday.
Opposition politician Miklos Hajnal, whose Momentum party organized the rally, said it sought to “honour the editorial staff which today probably made one of the biggest sacrifices … to shine a spotlight on what is happening, on how a newsroom can be destroyed and how even the strongest and most-read news portals can be ruined in Hungary.”
Over 80 Index staff members said on Friday they were leaving Index.hu because the dismissal of Szabolcs Dull endangers the website’s professional independence and its future.
Last month, Index moved its “independence barometer” to “in danger” from “independent” after it was confronted by management plans to reorganize the newsroom.
Management said that keeping the dial at “in danger” had a negative impact on the news site’s ad revenues and led to Dull’s firing on Wednesday.
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.
The International Press Institute, an association that advocates for freedom of the press, described the developments at Index as “a devastating blow to journalism in Hungary.”
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.
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