Fri, 14 June 2024

Austria: political pressure on public broadcaster

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President of Association of European Journalists, Otmar Lahodynsky,
slams “intimidation” of journalists by a senior politician in new
government’s junior partner, the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO). Such
moves to compromise the editorial independence of public radio and TV
(ORF) “must be stopped in their tracks”.

AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky together with journalists from ORF denounced threats by the FPO Board ofTrustees’ Norbert Steger, who has threatened to cut a third of correspondent jobs if ORF journalists “do not behave correctly”.

Steger, 72, FPO party leader from 1980 -86 and briefly Austrian
Vice-Chancellor, has been bitterly outspoken about ORF reportage of
recent parliamentary elections in Hungary, a campaign marked by
relentless anti-immigrant tirades, as “one-sided”. The new heads of
broadcasting and editors-in-chief would have to “take steps to ensure
more objective reporting,” Steger said.

A veteran profil editor and author, Lahodynsky said
Steger was plainly trying to bully ORF journalists, demanding new
rules for their online behaviour in social media. Steger’s line, that
anyone who flouts the rules “will first get a warning, then be fired,”
was “outrageous”, he said.

“He has plainly disqualified himself as a potential chairman of the
FPO Board of Trustees,” Lahodynsky said. As for Steger’s statement
that the public broadcaster’s mission needed “an update”, this raised
the alarm about the coalition government’s position in the on-going
debate about a new ORF law.

“Normal democratic governments can’t, and don’t seek to, regulate
reportage as and when it suits them,” Lahodynsky said. But Steger
plainly wanted carte blanche to replace critical journalists, “as is
increasingly the practice in Eastern Europe, and of course Turkey. Is
that the direction in which we really want to go in Austria?”

Founded in 1962, the journalists’ association has over 15 national
sections. It has regularly criticized inadmissible interference by EU
governments with free media and public broadcasters, most recently in
Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

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