Real existing Orbánism

The fight against fake news turned into a fight for real one

The takeover of Hungary’s biggest and most significant independent news outlet has left us with only two news sites (much smaller than index.hu) with limited capacity to cover  the news. The first one is already under attack.

After the shock of the destruction of index.hu, the de facto front page of the Hungarian internet and the most significant independent news site, cronies and aggressive, emboldened loyalists’ attention quickly turned to 24. hu, the second biggest independent news site – even though it is nowhere near index’ universal coverage and visitor numbers. 

Remaining independent
news outlets
compared to index.hu
Monthly visits
index.hu (no longer independent)75M (before takeover)
43M (after, and sinking)
24.hu30M
444.hu20M
hvg.hu18-22M
Euronews (HU) 700k
Data source: SimilarWeb

24.hu was not in the same league as index.hu, even according to the eulogy written by its editor-in-chief their paper has only ever tried to be as good as index.hu, but nothing is small enough anymore to fly under loyalists’ radar. It attracts 30 million monthly visits, so 24.hu must also go. Its owner is under attack by authorities, its journalists getting a whiff of the harassment Orbánist media unleashes these days on journalists who still dare. 

Another relatively major site is 444.hu, established by legendary index.hu founders back in 2013, exactly because index.hu was under attack and they wanted to establish an outlet outside of Orbánism’s reach (as much as it was possible). It now attracts 20 million monthly visits according to web audit.

The fact that index.hu lasted this long – despite being a thorn in the side of Orbán and the target of hissing hatred by every loyalist – was due to a quirk in the oligarchy, not because Orbánism was tolerant of the existence of independent media until 2020. 444.hu founders saw that and moved on seven years before it finally happened. 

There are also two investigative outlets to mention, átlátszó.hu and direkt36.hu, but they are not news portals. 24.hu and 444.hu are now our remaining eyes on what is happening in our country. If the journalists of index.hu manage to start a new outlet, it will have a huge gap to fill. 

To give you an idea just how much our lives have grown around index.hu being The News, the site still has an over 80% direct visit rate – meaning that people go straight there, rather than being referred by Google or social media. In the old days when you saw smoke going up somewhere in the distance, you went to index.hu to find out what’s burning. Not anymore.

Not having mainstream media that covers every major issue is not like having to triangulate between partisan news outlets like Fox News and CNN. It is like not having news at all, only shrill, hate-fueled, top-down propaganda.

To give an idea of how little patience the emboldened loyalists now have for non-Orbánist news sources, imagine that they now even have a problem with the Hungarian edition of Euronews, a bloodless, cautious little voice that only reports what national news outlets dig up. (51k followers on Facebook, but many only joined in after index.hu went down). 

If we decline even further, maybe Radio Free Europe will end up being the only non-Orbánist (but Hungarian-speaking) news outlet in existence. Who would have thought in 1989? 

Countless Orbánist outlets exist, spreading fake news and uninhibited hate like there’s no tomorrow and no consequences (and for now there aren’t). 

In short, our struggle to stop hate propaganda and uninhibited fake news have now turned into a desperate struggle for the continued existence of real news. Massive crowdfunding efforts are under way to finance the restart of index.hu but under a new name with the same journalists. 444.hu is also turning into a subscription-only outlet. Between the rock of Zuckerberg and the hard place of Orbán, having paywalled real news is the better option. It will leave the majority in the country without actual news, without even a chance of it, but this is where we stand now. 

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