A side effect of Orbánist media takeovers is that loyalists can hungrily browse through journalists’ old emails.
Deleting the archives, touching critical articles, turning Orbanized papers into Orbánist mouthpieces is what you can expect when loyalists buy up a news outlet and hand it over to Orbán. Now we have old emails to add to the list and all the potential for blackmail – not to mention the protection of journalists’ sources.
It’s a pity Timothy Snyder only reminded us of the importance of digital privacy in his 2017 book, On Tyranny. In it he likened emails to skywriting that is easily readable by autocrats’ digital sleuths. But what not even Snyder could have foreseen is that aforementioned autocrats don’t just hack into journalists’ emails – they buy up the whole paper and then read them legally. Back as far as 2005.
That is what happened to index.hu founder and journalist, Péter Uj, whose old emails are now the chomping matter for the Orbánist hate media, having been “liberated” by Orbánists’ takeover of his former workplace, index.hu, in 2020.
But it gets worse. Uj hasn’t even been working at index.hu anymore. He left in 2011 when the first tremors of political pressure from the incoming Orbán government have been felt. (Index.hu has been in the crosshairs of Orbán for a long time, it was a miracle they lasted until 2020. Now the site is zombified and delivers Orbán’s version of events and lies.)
The letters published on Orbánist hate sites are from 2005 and 2006. That is all they seem to have finished reading so far. But if they are any good at bullying – which they are – the most juicy ones they will keep for blackmailing Uj.
Because Uj is a key figure in the remaining independent media. In 2013 he founded 444.hu to create a portal that is out of the reach of Orbánist cronies. Blackmailing Uj or threatening him with legal action can give Orbánists their much-desired opportunity to break into 444.hu.
It wasn’t even the first time journalists’ privacy was abused. When Népszabadság, the country’s oldest daily paper was shut down, it happened literally overnight. One day, journalists were simply not allowed back in the building, leaving their notes and laptops with the new owners. It was then rumored that the unusually harsh (even by Orbánist standards) end of the paper was due to its leaking of the central bank governor‘s infamous conduct at the time. The journalist working on the story promised to keep writing about it – on his Facebook because he no longer had a platform. No idea what happened to him – or to his sources.
Go check all the emails you have ever written. At every company you have ever worked for.