There are predictable steps that take place at every news outlet after an Orbánist takeover.
Depending on whether it was violent or gradual, the steps and their sequence might differ. Completely disappearing archives is rarely applied, but even that had happened at least once when the country’s biggest and oldest broadsheet daily was shut down overnight.
In July 2020, index.hu, the most significant independent news site, was also taken over by Orbánists. His cronies have finally managed to put their hands on it, but the journalists did the unimaginable: they all resigned en masse. The following weeks were spent with the transition and after much fumbling and embarrassing failure to recruit new people to fill the journalists’ seats. The site is now converted and we are watching as the poison is slowly dripping in the mental IV-bag of the country.
The steps are foreseeable but the sequence and the how is still a topic of morbid fascination. So here is a definitive sign: disappearing articles.
Removing the entire archive would be too obvious. Orbán only had it done in extreme rage, when Népszabadság kept publishing the embarrassing details about his central bank president’s superstition and mismanagement of funds in the bank. That must have been an extraordinarily touchy subject for him (there are many worse stories, if you ask me, and bigger thefts, but his country – his censorship). So rather than just removing the aggravating articles, the loyalists who bought it for Orbán have removed the entire, decades-long archive of the paper – leaving us without any digital memory.
I haven’t checked the offline records, but the National Library is being moved into some damp dungeon somewhere to give space to Orbán’s egotism in the Buda Castle, so the old papers might as well be eaten by moths or suffer water damage – like museum collections tend to after cronies finish lucrative renovations on the public buildings that host them. Ineptitude, negligence, arrogance, and a penchant for creaming off big sums of public money are not good news for conservation.
In Index’s case the first articles that were found to be removed were the rare English-speaking ones, announcing the threats on Index’s independence. Journalists have written about the takeover attempts as they were happening – in an effort to gain some protection. The efforts failed and their paper was colonized by loyalists. But the articles remained. Until yesterday, when they disappeared.
When wondering why these articles (if it was only these articles) the answer is probably in the site traffic statistics. The web audit of index.hu suggests that these English-speaking articles were the most visited on the site as web searches tended to land on these, probably from global traffic seeking to find out what happened.
The question is whether any other sensitive, investigative article had disappeared at the same time. The answer is that it is very difficult to spot an article disappearing – unless you go back and check each and every one of them every day. And yes, I know about the internet archives, but 1) not everyone does and that is not your usual way of looking up data, is it? And 2) you can’t find articles in the internet archives without the correct link. So, how many links have you saved?