Hungary’s right-wing government faced fierce criticism today for awarding its top state journalism prize to a television presenter notorious for spreading Jewish conspiracy theories and describing the country’s Roma minority as “human monkeys”.
Media reports from Budapest said the government of conservative premier Viktor Orban had awarded Hungary’s annual Tancsics prize – the country’s highest journalistic award – to Ferenc Szaniszlo, a presenter for the pro-government Echo TV channel.
Mr Szaniszlo’s anti-Semitic outbursts and his detrimental remarks about the country’s ostracised Roma minority were made on air in 2011 and prompted Hungary’s state-controlled media watchdog body to fine the channel. Today, ten former Tancsics recipients said they were returning their awards in protest against the decision. Mr Szaniszlo was not reported to have commented on their actions.
Zoltan Balog, the government minister responsible for state awards, described the choice of Mr Szaniszlo as “regrettable”. He claimed he had been unaware that the presenter had made anti-Semitic and racist remarks on air. Mr Balog said he had no legal powers to rescind the award.
Other recipients included the musician, Janos Petras, lead singer of the group Karpatia, which is regarded as the house band of Hungary’s extreme right-wing and virulently anti-Semitic Jobbik party, and the archaeologist Kornel Bakay, who has claimed Jesus Christ was Hungarian and that the Jews were slave traders during the Middle Ages.
Mr Oban’s Fidesz party-led coalition has a two-thirds parliamentary majority. But it is currently under fire from both the European Union and the US for introducing constitutional amendments that, among other things, limit the power of the Constitutional Court and oblige students on state grants to stay in Hungary and work after graduation. Mr Orban has vigorously defended the moves insisting that they are necessary to eradicate the last vestiges of Communism from Hungary’s political system.