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‘Index’ Case: Series of Misunderstandings or Forced Collapse?

Fanni Kaszás 2020.07.30.

The fate of the most read Hungarian news portal, index.hu, remains uncertain following the staff having announced their resignations after editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull was fired by the management board of the media company last week. 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 still writing articles in the next coming weeks. At the moment, everyone is blaming someone else for the collapse and several different versions have appeared in the news in the course of the last few days.

Bodolai: Fidesz had nothing to do with Index crisis but are laughing to themselves

According to László Bodolai, the leader of the foundation that runs Index, former editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull leaked information on a restructuring plan for the company proposed by the board to make it profitable. Magyar Hang reported that in a radio interview with Spirit FM, Bodolai said that the current situation could not have been prevented, no matter what he did. He said that the reform plans were abandoned long before the whole editorial board resigned, and even before Dull’s barometer indicated that the editorial independence of the news portal was “jeopardized.”

Last week, Bodolai claimed in a closed group on the internet that Dull not only leaked sensitive business secrets to the competition (Bodolai said that news portal 24.hu asked him questions that they could only know from Dull), but he then deliberately destroyed Index in consultation with leading left-wing politicians. He later withdrew his claims, and in this more recent interview with Spirit FM, he said that there is no political background in the disintegration of the editorial board. He added that Fidesz had nothing to do with it either, and Index “fell apart without them having to do anything, they are laughing to themselves.”

The head of the foundation said that he has long felt that the appearance of Miklós Vaszily, who held and still holds leading positions in many pro-government media groups, did not have a good message. However, he added that his relationship with Vaszily is friendly and the pro-government media figure promised that they do not want to “make another Origo from Index,” (an openly and extremely pro-Fidesz tabloid news site), although in their view, the transformation of Index was inevitable, but they wanted it to remain what it is, a “normal newspaper” and not another pro-government site, and asked him to try reassuring the editorial staff of this as well. Bodolai added that “there are laws that need to be considered if an editorial office wants to operate on a business basis, it has to coordinate its operating model with the publisher.”

He said the condition which could not be fulfilled, was to take back Szabolcs Dull as editor-in-chief, who should have stepped back if it wasn’t his plan for Index to implode. Bodolai added that if he, himself would have resigned there would have been no salaries the next day, so he trusted that “the logically thinking half of the editorial staff” would remain – which was not the case.

He also raised the possibility that the editorial board resigned because a new site was already being prepared. Bodolai said if the former Index staff creates a new page within two weeks with a publisher registered a month ago, he expects an apology from everyone, because then the whole thing was only a ploy.

Editorial board and former editor-in-chief: Index operating model time bomb for years, Vaszily’s appearance clear sign of change 

At the same time, Index’s editorial board thinks that the portal’s operating model was a time bomb for years, which has now imploded. Miklós Jenei, head of the economic section of Index said in an interview with Klubrádió that on the outside, it seems that Dull and Bodolai are the opposing players in the Index case, but the editorial board in fact did not really have a problem with the president of the foundation that also owned the portal.

According to Jenei, the editorial board has maintained a principal since the start of the news portal: no one can have a say in what and how they write, and who is on their staff. If, on the other hand, someone breaks through this shield from the outside, which the editorial board has been able to hold so far, their independence will be unacceptably violated.

The journalist reported that in recent months, several signs of this could be noticed, such as Vaszily’s appearance in March which did not reassure the editorial board, the so-called Gerényi plan (outsource certain columns to external sites and journalists), and the situation imposed on them by Indamedia, which surrounds and financially controls the portal. According to Jenei, the portal itself only “consists of journalists and some computers, but its advertisements are sold by Indamedia – so it’s up to them how much advertising is sold and how much of it goes back to the editorial office.” This has codified a threat to Index in the past, but so far there has been no attempt against which they had to intervene. However, when the editor-in-chief was fired, many of them felt that their independence was in danger.

On the other hand, Szabolcs Dull also consistently denies the alleged disclosure of confidential information. In addition, he claims that as an entire month had passed between the accusation and his termination, it is more likely that “someone wanted to tear Index to pieces.” According to Dull, he has nothing to hide in this situation – and although many pro-government news portals (and for a while, even Bodolai) claimed that he was contacted by high-profile left-wing politicians, he did not “deliberately destroy Index.”

Dull said that since he has been working as a political journalist for years, many politicians know his phone number and he used to talk to them, but “he doesn’t think it’s a good development in Hungarian public life to fire someone and then create stories from his call lists.” He added that he hasn’t been exempt from secrecy, so there are things he can’t talk about.

Charges filed against Dull by outside figure

After Dull’s call list and contact with “high-profile left-wing politicians” appeared on several pro-government news portals and he was accused of disclosing business secrets to competitors, István Tényi, “Hungary’s most well-known file-charger,” filed charges against the former Index editor-in-chief. Pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet reported that this time Tényi reported Szabolcs Dull on suspicion of violating business secrets, because László Bodolai, the president of Index.hu Zrt. “made serious statements about the former editor-in-chief.” He also proposed that the prosecutor’s office order a supplement to the report and, if necessary, open an investigation in order to clarify the facts of the case. Szabolcs Dull previously told RTL news that he had never disclosed trade secrets.

featured photo: Bődey János/Index/Távozó indexesek Facebook

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