“This paper was my fourth child. I consider [my firing] a terrible injustice.” – Csilla Hajnal, former editor-in-chief, Fejér County Newspaper
“There are barely any literate people left at the Mészáros papers,” former editor of the Fejér Megyei Hírlap (Fejér County Newspaper) Ernő Klecska told hír TV after the Tuesday hearing of the lawsuit he and former editor-in-chief Csilla Hajnal filed against the paper’s publisher. Klecska, Hajnal and three other editors were fired with immediate effect in December 2016, following the publication of a Christmas interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán containing altered text that mocked Orbán.
Klecska and Hajnal filed a labor lawsuit against Pannon Lapok Társasága (PLT), which merged last year with the Lőrinc Mészáros-tied Mediaworks Kft., claiming they were unlawfully terminated over the Orbán interview. Klecska and Hajnal argue that not only did they not know about the hacking of the text, but even had they learned that it had been modified, by the time the paper was put to bed they did not have the authorization to make modifications.
At the time of the incident, PLT distributed 53 publications, including county dailies Fejér Megyei Hírlap, the Veszprém-based Napló (Journal), Vas Népe (People of Vas) and Zalai Hírlap (Zala Newspaper) in four counties of Hungary’s Transdanubia region. The publisher operated a dual editorial system in which the central editorial prepared articles that were published in the same form on the same page of every county paper, while local editorials concentrated on local news. Interviews with senior politicians were usually prepared by the former.
At Tuesday’s hearing at the Székesfehérvár Administrative and Labour Court, former central senior editor at PLT Judit Gida testified that in accordance with PLT’s decades-old internal policy, local editors such as Klecska and Hajnal were not allowed to modify articles prepared centrally, reports index.hu. Gida also stated that local editors were usually not required to even look into the ready-made articles. Attorneys of Klecska and Hajnal presented written guidelines from the previous year explicitly prohibiting local editors from modifying articles prepared by the central editorial office.
After the hearing, Klecska told hír TV that in previous days more colleagues were fired by Mediaworks, as a result of which “there are barely any literate people left at the [Mészáros] papers.” The former editor said “everything has been shoveled under the Mészáros-tied Mediaworks, and there are several bridgeheads [owned by billionaire media mogul] Andy Vajna and Mr. Pecina [the Fidesz-tied Austrian businessman who now owns several of the country’s regional dailies–ed.]” Klecska gave a brief description of the county papers’ content under the oversight of Fidesz-tied businessmen: “It’s worth checking the papers, production reports, optimism, tabloid, local tabloid, attempts of character assassination, just lightly so that readers in the countryside understand it too.”
Klecska and Hajnal are each seeking HUF 4-5 million from PLT in compensation for alleged damage to their reputation. “I will file lawsuits until the end of the world if necessary,” Klecska told index.hu. Hajnal vowed that she would hold out until the end, adding: “I worked at the editorial office for 26 years and there had never been any complaints regarding my work. This paper was my fourth child. I consider [my firing] a terrible injustice.”
The attorney of Mediaworks requested the court to dismiss the lawsuit and to oblige the plaintiffs to pay the costs.
The police investigation into the actual hacking of the Orbán interview has yet to find the perpetrator.