The newspaper posted footage of staff members handing in their notices, saying the president of the outlet’s board had ignored calls from employees for the editor to be reinstated. A letter signed by around 100 staff members Wednesday described the dismissal as an “an overt attempt to apply pressure on Index.hu that will result in the decline of independent reporting.”
It marks a blow to Hungary’s shrinking independent media. In his 10 years in power, Orban has been accused of a systematic stifling of the press, bringing news outlets under the control of his loyalists and passing laws that hinder critical journalism. Since 2018, Hungary has slipped 16 places on the World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the worst countries for media freedom in Europe.
Concerns over rule of law, including efforts to dismantle the independence of the judiciary, have put Hungary at loggerheads with European Union officials. But Dull’s dismissal came just a day after Orban crowed about a victory in Brussels, after threatening to use his veto to block the European Union deal on a $859 billion coronavirus recovery fund if relief was tied to upholding democratic values.
The coronavirus crisis has increased pressure on the country’s few remaining independent publishers. While government advertising props up pro-government outlets, independent publishers have been struggling to survive as advertising is hit by economic uncertainty, and sectors such as tourism and events that have virtually ground to a halt.
Both Index.hu and another independent online news site, 444.hu, launched campaigns for donations this year to help them survive.
According to media analysts, Index.hu has long been in the government’s sights. In 2018, it set up a “freedom barometer” on its website to mark the threats to its independence after a change to its ownership structure. The site explained that if there was any change to its independence, it would “notify the world as loudly as we possibly can.”
But in March, pro-government businessman Miklos Vaszily acquired a significant stake in Index.hu’s advertising business.
“Index is under such external pressure that could spell out the end of our editorial staff as we know it,” Dull wrote in June. “We will keep you updated on the developments here on the site as long as we can, as long as we are allowed. As long as we are free.”