Journalists and media employees have taken to the streets in Hungary protesting what they said was right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban’s bid to crackdown on Index.hu, a major independent news portal in the country. A protest march to the prime minister’s office was held in Budapest on July 24, Friday. The protesters from liberal and left-wing sections condemned Orban’s highhandedness on the issue of press freedom.
The crisis in the Index.hu, one of the widely-read news portals in Hungary, began when the pro-Orban businessman Miklos Vaszily gained a stake in the news portal. On July 22, the editor-in-chief, Szabolcs Dull, was fired by the management. He had earlier warned that the news portal’s autonomy from the government was at risk. On July 24, protesting the dismissal, three leading editors, Attila Tóth-Szenesi, Veronika Munk, and János Haász, resigned, followed by more than 70 journalists.
Responding to the developments, the Hungarian leftist portal: A MI IDŐNK (Our Time) stated, “The total abolition of the freedom of the press is a fundamental aspiration of the fascist dictatorship of Orban. The fascist, feudalising, clerical, neoliberal capitalist dictatorship can only sustain itself with lies.”
However, A MI IDŐNK pointed out that the suppression of the press was already in evidence during the rule of the current opposition and noted that the censoring of the voices of the left was a staple of the capitalist press earlier too.
The Hungarian chapter of the pro-democracy Diem25 told Peoples Dispatch that “the hijacking of Index.hu is shocking and represents the last large media in Hungary to be absorbed by the Fidesz political machine of Viktor Orbán. A new media independent of corporations and millionaires is needed more than ever.”
Vajnai Attila from the Workers’ Party of Hungary 2006 – European Left also denounced the crackdown on press freedom. However, he too critiqued the liberal press’ selective protests against the political establishment which has often supported measures such as the expropriation of collective farms, the privatisation of factories, etc.
Viktor Orban has been consistently weakening democratic institutions in the country while consolidating his hold on power. Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party have been severely criticised for the totalitarian bid to control academic research in the country, the enactment of the notorious anti-labor ‘slave law,’ the campaign against the Central European University (CEU) and attack on migrants. Orban’s move to take over absolute power under the cover of COVID-19 also led to opposition from progressive sections in the country.