For the fourth time, the University of Potsdam will award the “Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences” at its New Year’s Reception on January 15, 2020. Since 2017, the prize, which is sponsored by the Friede Springer Foundation, has been awarded to a scholar who is particularly committed to freedom of research and teaching and the right to freedom of opinion. The prize will be awarded to the Hungarian media scientist Prof. Dr. Gábor Polyák.
The University of Potsdam has awarded the Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences for three years. The fact that the University established this award together with the Friede Springer Foundation in 2017 clearly demonstrates that the values associated with this award are not a matter of course. This year the Hungarian legal and media scientist Gábor Polyák will receive the Voltaire Prize. With their decision, the jury honors a researcher who stands up, under immense political pressure, for the fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and the media.
Gábor Polyák is Associate Professor for IT Law and Media Policy at the University of Pécs. At the intersection of legal studies, media studies and political science, his research focuses on a central question: What does the rapid erosion of freedom of the media and freedom of opinion mean in Hungary for the pan-European project of democratically constituted societies? A decisive factor for Polyák’s work is the close connection of his research with a strong commitment to civil society. In addition to his academic work, he is also chairman of the media-political NGO Mérték Media Monitor, a Hungarian news watchdog organisation that provides information about the background and consequences of the eroding freedom of the media in Hungary. He is also head of the Hungarian team of the European Journalism Observatory (EJO), an international platform for fact-based and independent media coverage. In view of the rampant political instrumentalization of the media, Mérték and EJO demonstrate every day what the media can do as a “fourth estate”.
The importance of Gábor Polyák's work can hardly be overestimated for the Hungarian context - and goes far beyond at the same time. For him, the freedom of the media and opinion is key to an integrative, pan-European sphere of knowledge and information transfer. The Voltaire Prize honors Gábor Polyák as a scholar who protects with his work the institutional conditions of cross-border democratic coexistence with his work. Not least in this conviction lies the visionary power of Gábor Polyák’s work.
Today’s award ceremony is not only connected with our highest respect for Gábor Polyák but also with anticipation because Prof. Polyák researches and teaches at one of the partner universities of the University of Potsdam within the European Digital UniverCity network. EDUC realizes the European idea in a completely new form of academic cooperation. We are able to shape this cooperation with partners such as Prof. Polyák from the University of Pécs in the best sense - forward-looking and also reflecting on the ideals of enlightenment that give the Voltaire Prize its name.
Dr. Gábor Polyák is a university professor at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies of the University of Pécs. He is also the founder and chairman of the Hungarian think tank and watchdog organization Mérték Media Monitor that examines and analyzes the economic, legal, socio-political and journalistic aspects of the media-political situation in Hungary and Europe.
Gábor Polyák studied law at the University of Vienna and communication studies at the University of Pécs, where he earned his doctoral degree and completed his habilitation. He was a visiting scholar at the universities of Munster, Graz, cologne, Dortmund, Lisbon, and also Potsdam. His research and teaching comprises media law and media policy, IT law and media system comparison.
Between 2008 and 2009, Polyák was scientific advisor of the president of the former Hungarian media board. He regularly works for international organizations such as “Reporters Without Borders”, “Freedom House” and the European Journalism Observatory. He is also a certified democracy trainer, trainer of the Human Rights Education Program of Amnesty International and engages in education programs for teachers about fake news.