Hungarian journalist returns prize after outcry
- 21 March 2013
- From the section Europe
Hungarian TV presenter, Ferenc Szaniszlo, has given back a prestigious journalism prize awarded by the government.
The award was strongly criticised because of past remarks by Mr Szaniszlo that were seen as anti-Semitic and disparaging of Roma.
The US and Israeli ambassadors were among those to voice condemnation.
The centre-right government said it had not originally been aware of Mr Szaniszlo's controversial comments.
Two remarks had become the focus for criticism of Mr Szaniszlo, a presenter with the pro-government private Echo TV.
In 2011, Echo TV was fined $2,000 by the Media Authority for anti-Roma comments. The presenter has likened Roma to monkeys.
In 2009, Mr Szaniszlo suggested that Israel might have to be emptied by 2020 as it had lost its strategic importance in the Middle East.
"But who would want six million Israelis?" he added.
The Mihaly Tancsics prize, named after a prominent 19th Century journalist, is awarded each year on Hungary's national day, 15 March.
Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog said he had been unable to check the background of the several hundred people to whom he awarded state honours.
But, within hours of giving the prize to Mr Szaniszlo, he conceded it was a "bad decision".
On Tuesday, he sent a letter to the journalist calling on him to give the prize back. It was, he wrote, awarded "in error".
Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor said the award had been given to "the wrong person for the very wrong reasons".
At least a dozen former recipients of the prize had returned their awards in protest against Mr Szaniszlo receiving it.
The choice of two other recipients of national honours on the same day has also been sharply criticised - archaeologist Kornel Bakay for allegedly anti-Semitic comments, and musician Janos Petras of the rock band Karpatia, which is associated with the far-right Jobbik party.