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Protests over media issues

June 5th, 2014

Several Hungarian news portals protest against the dismissal of the editor-in-chief of Origo, and Népszabadság‘s editor believes that journalists are under serious and growing pressure.

In a rare unsigned editorial, Index.hu whose owner Zoltán Spéder is often seen as a close ally of PM Viktor Orbán, expresses concern over press freedom, after the editor in chief of its main rival, Origo was dismissed. Gergő Sáling was replaced after Origo ran a story about State Secretary János Lázár’s expensive hotel bills abroad, but the news site, owned by Telekom Hungary denied any connection between the two events. Index explains that competing with Origo has been a driving force for their activities, and fears that that might not be the case in the future. The authors point out that public media have been directly manipulated by governments and political forces since 1989, but politicians have also influenced print and other media outlets through other means such as advertising, putting pressure on owners to sell, or simply “making a call”. Under these circumstances, they say, online media has become the only source of reliable and unbiased reporting, and Origo was one of the leaders in the field. If Hungary has reached a point where politicians are able to get inconvenient journalists fired, “no one can feel safe” and journalists will increasingly exercise self-censorship out of fear for their jobs. Such self-censorship in turn will “further restrict democratic liberties”, Index suggests.

Levente Tóth, editor-in-chief of Népszabadság admits he does not know if Sáling was indeed dismissed because of the Lázár-scandal (the State Secretary vehemently denied any involvement), but remarks that Origo, the leading online news portal has had four editors-in-chief within three years, while Index, the second largest, has had three. The reasons are diverse, including pressure from sensitive advertisers. It has thus become a daily dilemma for editors, if a report will endanger the jobs of their colleagues. So far there has never been too much solidarity among media outlets, as each clings to the hope that it might make it on its own, Tóth complains, and calls on them to realize that in the face of outside pressure they have to cooperate – beyond showing solidarity with Origo for a single day.

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