Hungary

Firing of Hungarian Newspaper Editor Stokes Press Freedom Fears

Another blow to the country's few remaining independent news outlets

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The editor of Index, Hungary's largest independent news site, was fired on Wednesday, sparking fears that the country's increasingly authoritarian government is encroaching on one of the country's few remaining independent news outlets. On Friday, Index's editorial board and 70 of its staffers resigned to protest the dismissal.

László Bodolai, CEO of Index's parent organization, says he fired Szabolcs Dull because the editor had leaked plans for a major company reorganization and failed to control newsroom tensions. (The reorganization proposal would outsource certain functions of the editorial board to external companies.) Bodolai claims the drama was scaring off advertisers, leading to a drop in revenue.

Critics note that the pro-government businessman Miklós Vaszily purchased Indamedia, which sells Index's advertising, earlier this year. Vaszily manages the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), a government-linked media conglomerate that has consolidated control over most of the country's news outlets. In 2014, the previously independent news site Origo became a government mouthpiece under Vaszily's leadership.

Hungary's ruling Fidesz party does not control the country's press directly. But that's not unusual for the so-called "new autocrats" that arose after the collapse of the USSR. In their 2010 book Competitive Authoritarianism, Lucan Way and Steven Levitsky argue that under such regimes, "major media outlets are linked to the governing party—via proxy ownership, patronage, and other illicit means." KESMA operates on similar principles. The organization is owned by a government-affiliated media magnate, and its advisory board consists of a pro-government think tank director, a former Fidesz candidate, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's former lawyer.

Hungary has recently experienced a marked decline in press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country just 89th in its global 2019 Press Freedom Index, calling the government's media control "unprecedented in an E.U. member state." (When Orban took office in 2010, Hungary was ranked 23rd.) Marius Dragomir of the Center for Media, Data and Society estimated in 2017 that the Hungarian government controls 90 percent of the country's media, making independent news sources an increasingly rare commodity.

After the Index's reorganization plan was released, Dull moved the site's independence barometer from "Independent" to "In Danger," writing that the outlet "is under such external pressure that could spell out the end of our editorial staff as we know it." The barometer was created two years ago, following a partial change in the site's ownership, to inform readers whether Index's independence was being compromised. A letter from Index newsroom staff claims that Bodolai has "tried to force us to move the barometer back into the green zone." The "reason for Dull's dismissal," the letter adds, "was that he made it clear that he will not yield to blackmail."

For his part, Badalai insists that "the political independence of Index is not at risk" and the reorganization plan was rejected by upper management.

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  1. Thank God no one would get forced to resign in this country, just because a few folks didn’t like an op-ed.

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    2. The Land of the Free is well 45 among nations. I guess that makes Ghana, Namibia and South Africa pillars of Freedom of the Press.

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  2. Given the utter dumpster fire that OUR “independent” media has been, I have a hard time generating a lot of empathy here.

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    2. The vast majority of the media here has latched onto a chosen side of the political divide. I watch NHK (Japan) news simply because our media has become censored and toxic. Editors resigning or getting fired for their opinions in an editorial, that’s free speech? Go ahead and criticize BLM and see how long you remain employed. Rioters, looters and arsonists described as “peaceful” protesters? God help us.

      1. I love watching Japanese and Korean television. They don’t don’t ooze arrogance and palpably hate their viewers and think them evil and stupid like Anglosphere media.

  3. It should be remembered that the news media is only free so long as the people are willing to tolerate them, and if it ever becomes wildly popular for the government to crack down on the news media, that’s exactly what will happen.

    It works that way with the Second Amendment and everything else, too. It’s great that the Second Amendment says what it does. If people all over the country didn’t care about their Second Amendment rights anymore, we wouldn’t have them anymore anyway.

    Meanwhile the larger trend for trust in the news media continues go lower in the U.S. I’d expect it to go even lower as the election approaches. If and when it behooves a candidate to go after the news media, they will–and the last poll I saw suggested that a majority of Independents don’t trust the news media, never mind the Republicans.

    1. “If people all over the country didn’t care about their Second Amendment rights anymore, we wouldn’t have them anymore anyway.”

      Well, we do care, and vocally. And yet we still find them infringed all over the place. What other “right” requires background checks, fees for licenses, fingerprinting, training, etc, etc?

      You want t find out how restrictive these infringements are? Just require a pistol permit in order to vote.

      1. I suspect the reason Second Amendment rights get such a cold shoulder is that people associate them with the murder of children, etc. Even with their best use, as Second Amendment opponents would see it, you’re killing Bambi’s mom. If it weren’t as you say, and people do care and care vocally about their Second Amendment rights, we wouldn’t have them.

        Same thing goes for freedom of the press. As Americans become increasingly disgusted with the way the news is covered, their willingness to stick up for the rights of the press deteriorate. It’s unnecessary to openly advocate curbing press freedoms. It’s enough for people to just stop caring as much as they used to. That’s what I think the press is in danger of dealing with now.

        I think that’s what a lot of the Section 230 stuff is about–among other things. When you tell people that repealing Section 230 may bankrupt many of the people covering the news, that isn’t an argument against repealing Section 230 in their minds. That’s a good reason to repeal it. Somebody has to do something about the way these lying futhermockers are covering the news, right?!

        The press is digging their own graves.

        1. People rank all rights low, not just gun rights, because government has grown so large and meddly that there are a zillion things to complain about, and it has become more profitable, financially and emotionally, to spend your time siccing government on your enemies than to literally mind your own business.

          A starving man couldn’t care less about gun rights, freedom of the press, or any of that claptrap. Anyone who spends half his day either fending off government, or trying to get them to annoy somebody, has little interest in rights either.

          1. Fear of the street thug and the gangbanger incites people to give up 4th Amendment protections just as surely as it incites them to give up 2nd Amendment protections.

            http://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-08-mn-43649-story.html

  4. “Firing of Hungarian Newspaper Editor Stokes Press Freedom Fears”

    2/10

  5. On Friday, Index’s editorial board and 70 of its staffers resigned to protest the dismissal.

    After comparing to the US where the staffers created the controversial dismissal with only a single widely derided resignation it seems there’s more desire for a free press in Hungary than in the US. Before we congratulate the Hungarian press though we should recognize the press here believes the left is in ascendance whereas in Hungary that is not necessarily true.
    Both groups function primarily as leftist political activists, their positions on free speech are not innate but a result of how teach approach advances their political preferences in their differing circumstances.

  6. Tanuld meg kódolni.

    1. I had to google translate and then I choked on my drink.

  7. I expect this is what the future holds once the far left gets back into power taking over congress and the white house. Stack the courts with more leftie judges. Then they’ll go to work on cancelling any websites like this still around.

  8. So corporations in bed with the government are purchasing media platforms such that it is a threat to free speech. That is a problem in Hungary but could never be an issue in the United States because reasons.

    If reason didn’t have double standards, it would have no standards at all.

    1. The party the new owner favors is on the right, so his wanting the editorial position to be aligned with his ideology is icky.

      If it was on the left, it would be just the owner’s right control what messages are on his platform.

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    3. If Reason didn’t have double standards, it would have no standards at all

      Double standards are the best standards because you get to have twice as many as less principled journalists.

  9. Oh look, Reason is sucking George Soros’ cock again.

    1. When corporations stand up to the far left, that is censorship. When corporations fire and deplatform anyone who stands up to the far left, that is just free speech and if you don’t like it start your own Twitter

      That is literally reason’s position

    2. Ever since Soros and Reason patron Koch founded their foreign policy think tank together, Reason has been shilling Soros policy far harder than what is simply needed to maintain clique respectability with other journos.

      1. I am expecting an article on the ‘virtues of unions’ any day now.

        Seriously Reason, get your shit together.

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  13. So it sounds like their news paper kicked out all the people the NY Times wouldn’t.

    Good on them.
    Obviously Freedom of the Press is paramount, as is freedom of the owner of a business to hire and fire anyone they want.
    ‘Reason’ is going lefter and lefter everyday, looking forward to the next article on why unions are important….

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