The year was 2001. The sysadmin came to hook me up to the student hall’s network. To check my internet connection he typed index.hu into the browser. That was the first time I read Index’ front page and it became the first thing I did every morning ever since.
I was not alone. Far from it.
Throughout the years index.hu has moved from my chunky desktop computer to my laptop, then on my phone. The reason I kept following Index has also changed with time – it went from a general interest in current affairs, through a behavioral addiction I couldn’t shrug, to a thorough disgust with Hungarian affairs (since 2010). But Index was always The News.
When something was not on index.hu, it didn’t happen. If something big was making the rounds of gossip, but index.hu didn’t report about it, we knew it was not confirmed, possibly a hoax. When, on the other hand, something was written on Index, it was considered common knowledge.
Telling a story you read on index was like telling people their own stories by mistake.
In conversations with friends it was somewhat embarrassing to start a sentence with “Did you hear…” and then ending it with something that was on index.hu. When you did it by accident, you apologized. “Sorry, I just realized I read it on Index.”
Everyone read Index, that was a given. Its front page was the most valuable platform in Hungarian media. It catapulted my silly first blog from zero to tens of thousands of readers when it started promoting curated blog content to its front page. By the time others have noticed the power of blogs, index.hu was indisputable market leader, and the blogs it promoted became profitable sites in their own rights based on the boost they received on index.hu.
Even when I didn’t follow Hungarian news, I still checked index.hu once a day. Just the front page, that was enough. I always knew what the issues were and what the mood was just by looking at it. And everyone I know did the same. We were literally on the same page in this country – and that page was index.hu.
And that same page was stolen from us yesterday.
We have already gained a glimpse of what happens when people have no access to independent journalism. In rural regions where online media has not penetrated, people have been kept on Orbán’s media diet for the last ten years. One by one those media outlets have been gobbled up by Orbánist cronies, creating Europe’s biggest media empire – and then gifting it to Orbán one day. They turned papers, radio stations and TV channels into Orbánist mouthpieces. It wasn’t sneaky, they didn’t try to hide it. It was an arrogant and menacing demonstration of power. The old journalists were fired with a bang – to make a precedent and to send the message that if they could do this to journalists, they can do this to you.
As a consequence, rural Hungary lives in a different reality where bloodthirsty liberals perform ritual child murders and hardcore porn themes are playing out between migrants and “our women”. If all those things were true, those liberals and migrants should be in jail, or worse. It is a miracle no one has been killed yet based on the hatemongering of Orbánist media outlets.
I have worked with the news for years. Being hooked on a Bloomberg terminal and receiving Reuters intravenously, I had to know everything that happened in the world, be it a water shortage in Sumatra or rumors about unrest trickling out of autocracies. And from autocracies there are only rumors, no confirmed news. Because they have no more journalism.
The last day of index.hu. Resignations and goodbyes. Photos: Bődey János // Index
On July 24, 2020, index.hu ended. The Orbánist vultures that have been circling it for a decade have finally moved in and removed its editor-in-chief, and the index.hu staff had two options. Slowly going under until they no longer deserved the name journalist – like their former competitor, origo.hu did. Or to stand up and hand in their resignations. They chose the second. They did it together.
The protest in support of Index journalists was the first protest in a decade I could not follow minute-by-minute on index.hu.
The next protest we won’t even know about. The next gigantic corruption case (that is too large and risky for a lesser site to cover) will also go unnoticed. The next abuse of power will go without mention, its victim left alone, without public sympathy. During the next pandemic we will only know whatever the authorities deign to tell us.
I can’t even begin to grasp what it would mean if its archives disappeared – the way it happened when Népszabadság was shut down overnight by Orbánist cronies in 2016.
As of the international media – they will be left with Orbánists’ brazen lies and the occasional pretend press conference where they can ask one (just one) bland question like “What do you say to rule of law accusations“. Checking local politicians should be done by the local journalists, but they will be driving buses in Germany and selling sausages from food trucks to feed their families.
And in 2022 we will have the first general elections when we won’t even know if there are any opposition candidates. The Orbánist media doesn’t report about opposition politicians – and that includes the public media – unless they are told to do so from above. But when they are told, they perform vicious character assassinations and issue menacing threats in anonymous front page editorials.
After the implosion of the country’s biggest news site, the government-funded, official news agency took eight hours to report about it. And that was just mentioning the massive protest in support of Index. As of the actual events, they haven’t received their spin yet.
That protest was not aimed to achieve anything. Protests have long stopped achieving things. It was the funeral of the most important news site of the country. This post is my eulogy. All we have left is to grieve.