Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Budapest — The largest source of independent news in Hungary briefly took down the front page of its online portal on Monday to sound the alarm over what it sees as its declining editorial freedom and to secure funding to protect its independence.

Journalists working at Index.hu fear the two investors who took control of the news portal in September may be linked to Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his governing right-wing Fidesz Party and may try to curb their editorial freedom.

"On Monday morning we did something unprecedented: we switched Index off for a time so that those who consider it important get a glimpse of what it would be like without us," editor-in-chief Attila Toth-Szenesi wrote in an article.

He said the acquisition was "a matter of vital importance" because the new owners control the Index, a separate company, CEMP, which sells its advertising space, and another company which provides the editorial systems.

Toth-Szenesi fears the acquisition was somehow funded by associates of Orban through a system known in Hungary as the national system of co-operation (NER). Under the auspices of the NER, set up in 2010 to counter liberal values and champion nationalist policies, some of Orban’s associates have won an increasing share of publicly funded business.

"In Hungary today those who are able to lend billions to the buyers must belong to Orban’s NER" Toth-Szenesi wrote, announcing a crowd-funding campaign that would help reduce the outlet’s financial reliance on CEMP.

By midday on Monday, the campaign had raised about 10-million forints ($36,000) from about 1,350 supporters.

Neither of the two new owners — Gabor Ziegler and Jozsef Oltyan — were available for comment on Monday. Ziegler has previously denied being a frontman for anybody else in the decision to acquire Index.

Government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs declined to comment on the matter.

Reuters