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New owner aims to ensure index.hu’s independence

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Full 100% ownership of Index.hu Zrt., publisher of one of Hungaryʼs most visited online news portals, index.hu, passed into the hands of a foundation on April 20, in a move that observers note is aimed at ensuring the continued independence of a news source that has remained unafraid to criticize the government.

A statement on index.huʼs own home page Thursday said that Pro-Ráta Holding Zrt., which also has an interest in national daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet and television news channel Hír TV, has exercised its option right based on an agreement signed in February 2014, transferring ownership to the "Foundation for Hungarian Development."

The goal of the foundationʼs acquisition, according to index.hu, is to continue to guarantee the internet news portalʼs leading market position, quality content, independence and broad as possible availability to Hungarian society in future.

At the same time as the change in ownership, the members of the board of directors of Index.hu Zrt. resigned from their positions, and the new 100% owner appointed new board members for an indeterminate period in the shape of lawyers Dr. László Bodolai and Dr. Ajtony Csaba Nagy, as well as economist Gábor Kereszty, who together elected Bodolai as chairman.

According to online economic and political news portal hvg.hu, the announcement brings to an end long-lasting speculation as to how long Hungaryʼs biggest news portal would be able to withstand the "media steamroller" of forces close to the Fidesz-led government, remarking that it seems to have found the solution for continued operation free of outside influence.

The Simicska connection

Hvg.hu notes that Lajos Simicska, the former close ally and financial adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, with whom he has had a well-publicized and acrimonious falling-out since 2015, was repeatedly rumored to have an option to acquire Index through one of his interests. According to hvg.huʼs sources, this option was indeed part of the aforementioned agreement signed in 2014.

At the same time, hvg.hu adds, ownership has now passed to the foundation, meaning that Simicska has not succeeded in acquiring an ownership influence in Index, although it conceded that the membership on the board of directors of Ajtony Csaba Nagy - who, it notes, has played a leading role in several Simicska enterprises - raises the question of whether the billionaire businessman might indeed exercise some influence on the portalʼs content in future.

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