Austria: Freedom Party attacks Austria’s public broadcaster again

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the verbal attacks and threats by representatives of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the junior partner in Austria’s ruling coalition, against Armin Wolf, a well-known news presenter on Austrian public TV broadcaster ORF, during and after an interview last week. They are the latest example of the FPÖ’s repeated attempts to intimidate ORF journalists since it joined the government in December 2017, RSF said.

During an interview on ORF’s ZIB 2 news show on 24 Aprilwith MEP Harald Vilimsky, the head of the FPÖ list of candidates for the European Union elections in late May, Wolf compared an anti-Muslim poster published by the FPÖ with Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda prior to the Second World War.

In response, Vilimsky said Wolf’s questions would “not remain without consequences,” accused him of trying to harm the FPÖ, and said he would fire him on the spot if he were running ORF. Other FPÖ representatives continued to attack Wolf in the days that followed, likening him to a Nazi-era people’s court judge who sentenced thousands to death in sham trials. 

Norbert Steger, the FPÖ-appointed head of ORF’s board of governors, suggested during an interview for the Sunday issue of the newspaper Österreich on 29 April that Wolf should take a sabbatical, travel around the world on the taxpayers’ dime in order to reinvent himself.”  

We strongly condemn these latest attacks against Armin Wolf, which have come after Austria fell five places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, above all because of this kind of behaviour,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “We are very worried by the fact that Austria’s ruling coalition not only flouts the basic press freedom rules but also tries to silence critical and independent media outlets by all possible means, including hate speech.” 

The FPÖ has been lambasting ORF and Wolf for months, and subjecting critical reporting to systematic verbal attacks. Independent journalists who cover scandals are branded as “left-wing extremists” and are accused of trying to undermine the government’s political will. Public broadcasting’s future is very uncertain and a proposed new media law has yet to be unveiled. After the five-place fall, Austria is now ranked 16th in the World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 02.05.2019