Alone Against the World

Szaniszló's Táncsics Prize: Crazy Award for Crazy Performances

2013. március 22. 14:15

The absurd awarding of a journalism prize to Ferenc Szaniszló highlights the nonsense of the state giving out so many awards. Politicians love awarding and very important people love getting awards. But what's the point of this mutual admiration society? Is there any reason for the state to give prizes to journalists or ballet dancers?

Last week, Ferenc Szaniszló, a TV news anchor, received a journalism award from the Hungarian Ministry for Human Resources. The prize, named after Mihály Táncsics,a reformer freed from prison during the Revolution of 1848 in the name of freedom of the press, is one of the most prestigious journalism prizes in Hungary.

After graduating in Moscow, Szaniszló became a journalist covering international issues, including the war in Croatia. But more recently he is known for his peculiar one-man shows broadcast by a small, private television station, Echo TV, where he carries on about a history of Hungary that spans many thousands of years (and includes the little-known Hungarian origins of Jesus) and blames what he calls the ‘hidden powers’ for their repeated attacks on the country and its interests:


His shows are full of conspiracy theories, and he regularly makes anti-Roma and anti-Semitic comments, criticizing the Orbán administration for serving only foreign interests. In fact, in 2011 this was the only political program fined under the new media law for violating the prohibition of hate speech since he frequently discusses the rising threat of the Roma people, fueled by ‘nazi liberals.’

The awarding of the famed Táncsics Prize to Szaniszló shocked the public, prompting journalists on the right and on the left to call the decision incomprehensible and unacceptable. Some even declared that they would return their own previously awarded prizes. In the face of such a public outcry, Zoltán Balog, the minister of Human Resources, quickly apologized, stating that he was not aware of Mr. Szaniszló's more recent work. He added, however, that there was no legal way to revoke the prize once it has been awarded. With no response from Szaniszló, Mr. Balog wrote an open letter to him, explaining that he had made a mistake in awarding the prize and could not abide his views, and asked that he return the award. Though Mr. Szaniszló returned the award in the end, he used his evening television show to make the announcement and took the opportunity to once more blame the ‘hidden powers’ in Israel and the United States for the scandal.

Details remain unclear on how Mr. Szaniszló was selected for the award. It seems that the prize’s nominating committee did not put his name forward to the minister, and one popular account of the background story indicates that János Halász, the minister’s state secretary, pushed Szaniszló’s name forward. There were other questionable nominations as well, but Szaniszló's was by far the most controversial.

Hungary has a long list of awards, and several different ministries of the government give hundreds of prizes out every national holiday. For example, on the recent March 15th holiday, Mr. Balog awarded many artists, doctors and other accomplished figures in the realm of culture. Politicians love awarding these people who have been important in the recent development of Hungary, and, to be fair, most of these awards are based on real achievements. But of course, nominations may also have a political dimension.

It is especially controversial when the state gives awards to journalists. Many commentators in fact have suggested that the Táncsics Prize should simply be done away with in the future. Mr. Balog has already said that he does not intend to give the award anymore and suggested that the Media Authority should instead be in charge. Unfortunately, this transfer of authority over the prize does not solve the problem of political nominees, and journalists may remain uncomfortable accepting such an award.

In the end, I hope this scandal encourages the state to take a hard look at these innumerable awards and consider cutting back on them. Perhaps it would be best to raise the bar higher and offer a much more limited number to individuals who have made a truly outstanding contribution to Hungarian progress.

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