February 20, 2019

Austria’s far-right launches new attack on public broadcaster

The far-right Freedom Party of Austria’s attack on public TV broadcaster ORF’s interview with President Alexander Van der Bellen, calling it reminiscent of an East German news programme and demanding the interviewer’s removal, was “extremely dangerous,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

The comments were made by Hans-Jörg Jenewein, the media spokesman of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the junior partner in Austria’s ruling coalition. He described ORF journalist Wolfgang Wagner’s interview with the president on 5 February as “outrageous” and “typical conviction journalism,” in which a “personal agenda” was used to “get those answers the left would like to hear.”


Jenewein also called for a “reform of the head and limbs” at ORF and a reorientation of its personnel, because of the broadcaster’s alleged structural flaws.


Jenewein’s comments were a continuation of his party’s strategy of portraying journalists, especially ORF journalists, as partisan and thereby questioning their credibility. In reality, Wagner has repeatedly demonstrated political independence in his many years as a journalist handling sensitive subjects.


 “Individual journalists are deliberately attacked by the FPÖ in order to intimidate them and to undermine entire media outlets,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. Although these smear attacks of the FPÖ are unjustified, they can severely tarnish the reputation of ORF.”


RSF Austria  added: “This is a direct attack on press freedom and thus on the democracy in Austria, and we must defend ourselves against it. The FPÖ is just looking for opportunities to demand organizational and personnel changes. We must not allow the freedom of independent media to be restricted in this way”.


ORF director-general Alexander Wrabetz and the broadcaster’s editorial board also reacted sharply to Jenewein’s criticism.


Press freedom has been increasingly threatened in Austria ever since the far-right FPÖ entered the government in December 2017. Until then, Austria had been one of the European Union countries with the best records and is ranked 11th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.