More far-right threats to Austria’s public broadcaster

A threat by the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the junior partner in Austria’s
ruling coalition, to fire foreign correspondents of the public broadcaster ÖRF who “do not
behave correctly,” constitutes unacceptable political pressure, Reporters Without Borders
(RSF) said.

The threat was made by FPÖ parliamentarian Norbert Steger, a member of ÖRF’s board, in an interview for the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper. The coverage of the recent parliamentary elections in Hungary by ÖRF’s Budapest correspondent was “biased,” Steger complained in the interview.

In response, ÖRF general director Alexander Wrabetz announced that he had extended Budapest correspondent Ernst Gelegs’ contract until 2021 because of his “excellent coverage” of the Hungarian elections. He also described ÖRF’s 16 foreign bureaux as “indispensable pillars of [our] international coverage that are highly valued by the public.”

We firmly condemn this attempt by a politician to influence the Austrian public broadcaster’s editorial policy,” said Pauline-Adès Mével, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk. “ÖRF board members and politicians should work to preserve ÖRF’s editorial independence instead of trying to influence it and to create tension.”

This is not the first time that the FPÖ has attacked ÖRF. In a Facebook post two months ago, FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache, who is Austria’s vice-chancellor, accused ÖRF of broadcasting “lies.” The public broadcaster responded by bringing a libel suit against Strache.

Austria is currently ranked 11th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index. But the FPÖ’s repeated attacks on ÖRF have hurt the image of a country that was until now regarded as one of the European Union’s best examples of respect for press freedom.

Published on
Updated on 19.04.2018