A letter released by one of the former editors of origo.hu details the government pressure placed on the website, which eventually led to a mass walkout in response to the sacking of editor-in-chief Gergő Sáling.
András Pethő’s letter, originally written in the June aftermath, went public via 444.hu earlier this week. It details a stifling environment with continual attempts to influence editorial content from the Prime Minister’s Office and its Chancellor János Lázár.
The email reads:
I am the sub-editor of origo.hu, which is published by Origo Zrt, a company owned by Magyar Telekom. I would like to make a complaint because as far as I know, systematic attempts to exert political pressure have been made against the Origo editorial board for the last six months. These attempts had a role in the current removal of editor in chief, Gergő Sáling.
To my knowledge, these attempts at exerting influence took the form of people close to politicians communicating with Magyar Telekom managers, who in many cases passed them on as orders to Origo Zrt. executive director Miklós Vaszily. He forwarded these requests to Gergő Sáling, who refused to comply, citing journalistic independence and principles of balanced and factual coverage. As far as I know, these tensions contributed to the ejection of Sáling.”
Sáling and around 30 Origo employees quit in early June amid reports that the catalyst had been an Origo article into Lázár’s travel expenses claims. Origo Zrt. claimed that Sáling had left because the company had to react to the “changing habits of online media consumption”.
Both Vaszily and Origo’s German parent company Deutsche Telekom have denied allegations of political influence over the editorial content of origo.hu. However, according to 444.hu and the investigative weekly Figyelő, undisclosed sources at Origo have confirmed that former Fidesz party director Attila Várhegyi, who was convicted of embezzlement in 2002, and his associate Márton Nobilis (whose father is former Index.hu owner Kristóf Nobilis) regularly made political demands on Sáling. Várhegyi’s PR company is still contracted by Origo Zrt. for “strategic advice” consultancy services.