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Fidesz to EPP: Index Case Business Decision, Denies Political Influence

Fanni Kaszás 2020.07.29.

In a letter, Fidesz explains to the members of the European People’s Party what is happening around the Index case. It is written that the opposition is unfoundedly attacking the government as Index has made only business decisions. Meanwhile, at the press conference of the European Commission, a heated debate arose about Hungarian press freedom and the situation of the media, and several people accounted for the fact that there is a case of Hungarian media freedom that has been going on since 2016.

Fidesz explains the Index-situation to EPP members in a letter:

On Tuesday, Fidesz sent a letter to the members of the European People’s Party (EPP) regarding the Index case, explaining in their opinion what led to the dismissal of the editor-in-chief and the resignation of the editorial board of the Hungarian news portal. News portal Politico showed the content of the letter in their ‘Brussels Playbook’ newsletter.

In the letter, Fidesz writes that the editorial board of Index collapsed due to an internal corporate affair, and there was no political influence at all. They added that it is also reported that the Hungarian opposition falsely assumes that the government has something to do with the events. The letter also mentions the dismissal of Szabolcs Dull, editor-in-chief, who according to the government, was fired because of a decision by the company’s management as they believed Dull had leaked business secrets.

Index Journalists Begin to Quit after Editor-in-Chief’s Dismissal
Index Journalists Begin to Quit after Editor-in-Chief’s Dismissal

The entirety of leading news portal Index’s editorial board commented that editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull’s dismissal is “unacceptable.” After their demand to restore Dull to his position seemed fruitless, resignations began at Hungary’s most-read news portal. The staff cites outside pressure and fears the decline of independent reporting. Following the announcement of László Bodolai, the chairman […]Continue reading

According to the letter from Fidesz, private companies are free to operate in Hungary, and the business decisions they make belong to them only and exclusively. However, opposition MEPs see the situation very differently. According to Klára Dobrev from the Democratic Coalition (DK), Prime Minister Viktor Orbán cannot stand opposition opinion, so it is no coincidence that the PM “is trampling on the independent press.”

Katalin Cseh from Momentum wrote that the collapse of Index was indeed a very political matter, as the portal was stifled by the political influence of Orbán’s oligarchs.

Debate at the European Commission’s Press Conference

Meanwhile, in connection to a question about Index (by Politico journalist Lili Bayer), a serious debate took place at the European Commission’s press conference on Monday about press freedom and the current situation of the Hungarian media. In her response, Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant emphasized her concern about the situation in the Hungarian media, and said that the Commission’s Vice-President, Vera Jourova, had voiced her concerns several times before, for example in a debate in the European Parliament in May.

However, journalists pointed out that two complaints about the situation of the Hungarian media are still in progress, although one started in January last year about the excessive pro-government media due to the establishment of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA). The other case is even older: it started in 2016, and the complaint was about the funding of the Hungarian “public service” media, which did not comply with European rules on state aid.

MPs Ask top Court to Annul 'Strategic National Significance' Status of New Right-Wing Media Foundation
MPs Ask top Court to Annul 'Strategic National Significance' Status of New Right-Wing Media Foundation

Two independent MPs, Bernadett Szél and Szabolcs Szabó, have asked the Constitutional Court to annul a government decision granting “strategic national significance” status to the acquisition of Echo TV, Magyar Idők, New Wave Media and Opus Press by the Central European Press and Media Foundation. Szabó told a press conference on Tuesday that once the […]Continue reading

At the press conference, several journalists tried to find out details and the reason why it takes four years to handle a complaint. The spokesman emphasized that she could not discuss details about an ongoing case, but in general, the length of the investigation also depends on the complexity of the case, the length of the petition, and how long it takes to process a complaint.

She added: “…as media diversity, freedom of the press, and the situation of the media are important in all Member States, especially in Hungary, the area is a priority for the committee. Work will continue on the complaints and they will make the necessary efforts to get results.”

What is the antecedent and what happens to Index now?

On Friday, most of the staff of Index.hu announced their resignations after editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull was fired by the management board of the media company. According to László Bodolai, the leader of the foundation that runs Index, Dull leaked information on a restructuring plan for company proposed by the board to make it profitable. On Friday, the Momentum party called a demonstration and thousands of people marched through Budapest from the Index headquarters to the Prime Minister’s office to protest.

Dismissal of Index Editor-in Chief and Resignation of Journalists Triggers 'Media Freedom' Demonstration
Dismissal of Index Editor-in Chief and Resignation of Journalists Triggers 'Media Freedom' Demonstration

A demonstration was held in Budapest on Friday evening in protest against the dismissal of the editor-in-chief of news website index.hu, for media freedom. The protest started at the editorial office in north Buda, then the demonstrators marched to Buda Castle. László Bodolai, chief of the foundation that exercises the employer’s rights at Index, initiated […]Continue reading

Since then, as a guest at Hungarian television channel ATV, Bodolai said he thinks Index would continue to exist and work. Although he couldn’t tell what the paper would look like, “…it will continue to work with the Index values.” Currently, the deputy editors-in-chief, who resigned on Friday with almost the whole staff, are leading the paper and those journalists who resigned are writing the articles (except for 21 employees who were immediately released.) It also turned out that Pál Szombathy is no longer the CEO of Index, having spent only days in that position, but he is still a member of the board, and Bodolai still exercises ownership rights. He also said that the resignation wave on Friday shocked him. Bodolai thinks that not everyone will leave the news portal in the end, and said that many journalists had already applied for positions at the crisis-hit portal.

featured photo: demonstration for media freedom last week (Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI)