The Gawad bestows honor on Filipino media practitioners who have excelled in any of the media (print, film, radio, television, and new media) and performed with the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service. The recognition, which comes with a trophy sculpted by National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva, is given to one practitioner in one medium for each year. The awardee is expected to deliver the Plaridel Lecture which addresses important media issues.The award is named after Marcelo H. del Pilar, the selfless propagandist whose stewardship of the reformist newspaper La Solidaridad from 1889 to 1895 helped crystallize nationalist sentiments and ignite libertarian ideas, mainly through his 150 essays and 66 editorials published under the nom de plume Plaridel. A crusading journalist, this native of Bulacan served as editor of the vernacular section of the Diariong Tagalog (Tagalog Newspaper), the first Philippine bilingual newspaper, in 1882. Among his major publications were Dasalan at Tocsohan (Prayerbook and Teasing Game), Pasyong Dapat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Tauong Babasa (Passion That Should Inflame the Heart of the Reader), and La Soberania Monacal en Filipinas (Monastic Sovereignty in the Philippines), all published in 1889.
From 1890 to around 1895, he edited and published La Solidaridad almost on his own because funds for the support of the fortnightly had become more and more difficult to raise in the Philippines. Del Pilar slowly lost hope in reforms and began to entertain the possibility of the Philippines separating from Mother Spain. Pining for his mother country and suffering from tuberculosis, Del Pilar died in Barcelona, Spain on July 4, 1896 at the age of 45.
Like Plaridel, the recipient of this award must believe in the vision of a Philippine society that is egalitarian, participative, and progressive, and in media that are socially responsible, critical and vigilant, liberative and transformative, and free and independent.
Given annually, it started in 2004 with Eugenia Duran-Apostol, publisher and founding chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer as its first awardee. In 2005, it was awarded to premier actress and current Batangas governor Vilma Santos, PhD honoris causa, for film. Veteran radio broadcaster Fidela Mendoza-Magpayo, a.k.a. ‘Tiya Dely’, was the 2006 recipient. Cheche Lazaro received the award for 2007.