Protests Break Out in Budapest Over Govt Taking Control of Media House

By: Sashwata Saha
26 Jul 2020 Kolkata

Nearly 10,000 people took to the streets across Hungary as the country’s most widely read news site was thrown into disarray earlier this week after dozens of the organisation’s journalists quit in protest over the ruling government’s allies seizing control of the media house.


The mass resignations of 80 journalists (almost the entire editorial staff) from the Budapest-based Index.hu followed the sacking of editor in chief Szabolcs Dull, who warned in June that the site’s independence was at risk after changes to its ownership structure.


“It’s absolutely tragic,” said Angela Urban, an expert at Mertek, a Hungarian media monitor, said to The Washington Post and added that she sees little possibility for the news site to continue. “It was an institution.”


Index was the last of Hungary's key independent media. It had been operating under various ownership structures over the years. In 2018, Dull put up a “Freedom Barometer” on the site’s homepage. He gave two prerequisites for the continued functioning of the outlet: “Editorial independence and guarantees that there is no outside interference in our staffing decisions.”


In June, after Miklos Vaszily, an ally of nationalist and conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban took over Indamedia Network, which controls Index’s revenue stream, the dial on the barometer moved from “Independent” to “In Danger”.


Former Index journalists told the BBC that the sacking was "clear interference" and an attempt to apply pressure on the site.


Hours later, they gathered with protesters in Budapest to rally for media freedom.


Over the last decade, various Orban allies have gradually taken control of Hungary's independent media. His quest to transform Hungary into an ‘illiberal’ nation seems to be well underway as Orban controls nearly all levers of the State and uses them to maintain his grip on power.


Hungary is now ranked 89th out of 180 countries on the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2020. India is currently ranked 142nd.


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