Hungary’s Largest News Website Warns of Risk to Independence

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Hungary’s largest news website, Index.hu, said its independence is being threatened by planned changes to its structure, adding to concern that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is taking another step to thwart the few remaining critical voices in the country.

“Index is under such external pressure that it could spell out the end of our editorial staff as we know it,” Szabolcs Dull, the website’s editor-in-chief, said in an statement published late Sunday. “We are concerned that with the proposed organizational overhaul we will lose those values that made Index.hu the biggest and most-read news site in Hungary.”

Dull didn’t elaborate on the changes. Some journalists would be moved to external companies according to plans announced to the newspaper’s leadership, according to 24.hu, another news website, which cited a person it didn’t identify.

Media1, a portal covering the industry, cited a representative of Index’s owner as denying the 24.hu report. The economic crisis makes an overhaul inevitable, but Index staff had been misled into thinking there is any intention to “dismantle” the company, Laszlo Bodolai, the head of the foundation owning Index, told Media1.

Public Funds

Index didn’t remove the warning from its front page on Monday morning. If indeed confirmed, the pressure on Index would have plenty of precedents.

Orban, 57, a conservative who’s been Hungary’s leader since 2010, has looked to expand his reach in media, channeling public funds to newspapers and broadcasters loyal to his party. The left-leaning Nepszabadsag, once the country’s largest newspaper, was closed in 2016 after it was acquired by a businessman close to the premier.

In the case of the changes at Index -- the largest online outlet still critical of Orban -- speculation centered on Miklos Vaszily, the chairman of a pro-government commercial broadcaster. Although Index is owned by a foundation formed to guarantee its independence, Vaszily in March bought a 50% stake in the firm that manages ad revenue generated by Index and a handful of other websites.

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