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Far right journalist forced to return government award

March 22nd, 2013

A centrist blog argues that the award granted to an openly racist journalist reveals the problems with the highly centralised government Prime Minister Orbán has created, as Zoltan Balog, the Minister for Human Resources has to supervise too many areas.

As soon as the scandal broke (see Budapost, March 18), the minister apologised and explained that he had no knowledge of the journalist’s “unacceptable views”, but it was legally impossible to revoke the award. The Ambassadors of Israel and the United States nevertheless publicly asked him to do so. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona announced, meanwhile, that when his party comes to power, Ferenc Szaniszló will be appointed head of the Media Authority. Mr Balog finally asked Ferenc Szaniszló in an open letter to return his award, repeating that it was granted mistakenly. Szaniszló then announced in his regular one man show on Echo TV that since the Hungarian government “has been subdued by the world powers,” he would return the award. Since two further awards were also fiercely criticised for similar reasons, the Minister announced that he would revise the procedures and the journalists’ prizes would in the future be awarded by the Media Authority.

Véleményvezér argues that it would be facile to dismiss the affair as a simple oversight or a minister’s mistake. The highly centralized structure of the government, the author argues, makes such mistakes almost inevitable. Mr Balog’s predecessor was accused of not being efficient enough, even though the Ministry for Human Resources had grown into a giant organization, almost impossible to govern. The Minister is responsible for eight policy areas that would normally require separate agencies. Zoltán Balog, they say, is probably quite honest when he says he had no idea who Szaniszló was. The interesting question under these circumstances is how such a proposal could end up on Balog’s table after the ’reliable’ (mostly pro-government) expert committee had not endorsed the idea to grant Szaniszló the award. The explanation, they argue, is that the centralisation of decision making has resulted in the curbing of independent decision-making at the lower levels. It is ironic, they note, that Mr Balog replaced his previous state secretary for cultural affairs, László L. Simon, “because he thought professional considerations should be preferred to political pressure.” It is not the Minister who is at fault, but the centralised decision-making process and the disregard shown for expert advice, Véleményvezér suggests.

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