CIVICUS calls on Hungary to respect media freedom and to stop interfering in independent news site, Index.hu.
On 24 July 2020 over 70 journalists from Index.hu resigned, including three leading editors, following the dismissal of editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull on 22 July 2020. Dull was fired from his role by László Bodolai, President of the Board, who has refused to reinstate him despite calls to demonstrate the outlet’s independence.
The editorial staff believe that this act was a clear case of political interference. Last month, nearly 100 Index journalists and staff members released a statement explaining that the site is in danger due to “external pressure”. The recent developments came shortly after pro-government businessman Miklos Vaszily gained a stake at the news portal.
Following the mass resignations, thousands of citizens and journalists protested in Budapest outside the offices of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“This latest attack on Index.hu is likely to spell the end of press freedom in Hungary, which has been under serious threat for many years under the Orbán government,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space research lead for Europe and Central Asia.
Hungary is currently on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist due to the rapid decline of civic freedoms, including freedom of expression, in the country.
“The European Union needs to urgently act against Hungary to ensure any chance of survival of freedom of expression and media independence under the Orbán government. Failure to do so will have dire consequences for neighboring EU states that are mirroring similar trends of declining media freedoms,” said Narsee.
The rapid decline of civic space and human rights in Hungary over the past few years has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Orbán’s government passed the Authorisation Act which gave the government power to rule by decree during the pandemic. It later lifted the state of emergency and replaced it with a state of medical crisis, which cannot be lifted by Parliament. Orbán’s government has also criminalised fake news about COVID-19 and outlawed legal gender recognition for Transgender persons amid the pandemic.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has 10,000 members worldwide.
Hungary is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world.