Media Council put in charge of selecting winner of state’s top journalism award

In order to avoid repeating mistakes made during this year’s nomination for the recipient of the state’s top journalism prize, the Media Council will be responsible for selecting the winner of the Táncsics Prize in the future, according to a March 21 statement by Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog. The announcement followed a week of controversy and protest over Balog’s March 14 decision to award the state’s top journalism prize to far-right TV presenter Ferenc Szaniszló. Under mounting domestic and international criticism, Balog asked the journalist to return the prize.

Balog’s decision to award Szaniszló the prize also raised questions over reported irregularities in the nomination procedure. According to reports, State Culture Secretary János Halász recommended Szaniszló for the prize, although the award committee—headed by a senior staff member at the pro-Government weekly Heti Valaszlater revealed that it had advised against giving Szaniszló the award.

In the past, the government named the recipient based on the nomination of various journalist organizations, mainly the left-leaning National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ). This year, a five-person committee composed primarily of conservative editors and journalists was called upon by the cultural ministry to select the prize winner.

According to Balog’s statement, after reviewing the nomination procedure for this year’s award, the minister decided that in the future the prize shall be awarded by an “independent body, that is, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority,” and that “neither the Minister, nor the Ministry shall qualify the work of political journalists.”