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Austrian AEJ news 23-06-2021 (ENG – text only)

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23 June 2021 at 9.00 a.m.

Press Breakfast , Spanish Ambassador Cristina Fraile

for AEJ journalists

In the residence of the Spanish embassy, Vienna

Ambassador Cristina Fraile with AEJ journalists

Catalonia, migration, citizenship, Mercosur and Corona were the journalistic ingredients of a press breakfast of the Association of European Journalists AEJ with the Spanish Ambassador, Cristina Fraile, at the Embassy Residence in Vienna.

Catalonia: “Patience and dialogue”

“What is needed now is patience and dialogue”. This is what the Spanish Ambassador to Austria, Cristina Fraile, says shortly after the Spanish government’s decision to pardon the leaders of the Catalan independence movement. She understands the excitement about this. The step was criticised by both sides, but could be part of a solution in the sense of reconciliation. “Healing wounds takes time.”

Speaking at a press breakfast with the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in Vienna, Fraile says the 2017 declaration of independence divided the country, much like Brexit did in the UK. “In our representative democracy, referendums are manipulation,” is Fraile’s view. Such complex issues should be decided by parliaments, he said, and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. A solution – even a possible reform – in Spain would have to follow the guidelines of the constitution.

Education, like health, is decentralised in Spain. With disadvantages. Her example: In the public schools in Catalonia, only Catalan is taught today, Spanish and English are foreign languages. In the past, Catalan was the language of the bourgeoisie, the workers spoke Spanish. Conversely, in the Basque Country, Spanish was the language of the bourgeoisie. Now everyone uses the Basque dialect.

“Migration time bomb

Spain, as the only EU country with a land border in Africa (note: enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla), is exposed to particular migration pressure. It is in the “first line” with Greece, Italy and Malta. Most of them wanted to go north. Spain, on the other hand, mainly receives asylum applications from Latin America. The asylum seekers do not come by sea, but by plane from other EU countries. Latin America deserves more attention from the EU. And a new asylum and migration pact is needed that focuses on solidarity instead of the responsibility of the border states. Fraile speaks of the “migration time bomb: we need to invest more in Africa.” The sheer mass of migrants would overwhelm Europe. The sheer mass would overwhelm Europe. The Spanish ambassador distinguishes between legal and illegal migration. Legal migration is important and necessary for Europe, “it must be further promoted”. Illegal migration, on the other hand, should be fought.

Citizenship – Austria extremely strict

Asked about the discussion on citizenship in Austria, the Spanish ambassador said that the regulation in Austria was “extremely strict”, and that the SPÖ proposal for a new regulation was “very reasonable” from Spain’s point of view. Opening up the path to naturalisation would help with integration. She considers the Austrian approach of equating citizenship with loyalty to be a very narrow definition. In Spain, dual citizenship is allowed, only in one fifth of the countries worldwide it is prohibited. In Spain, five years of residence in the country would be enough for citizenship. Latin Americans could obtain a Spanish passport after only two years.

Mercosur – a question of credibility

After years of negotiations on the EU-Mercosur trade pact, the adoption was a question of the EU’s credibility, the Spanish ambassador told the European journalists. In Austria, the pact was rejected by all parties except the Neos. If there is still no progress, the question will ultimately have to be decided by the heads of state and government. She has little sympathy for the climate protection arguments against Mercosur. After all, the agreement would bring countries like Brazil closer to the Paris Agreement on climate protection. If the treaty fails, China’s influence in Latin America is likely to increase. “Do we want China to be responsible for the Amazon?”

Half the population vaccinated – praise for EU

At the start of the holiday and tourist season, half of the Spanish population has already been vaccinated against Corona.Almost 40 percent have also received the second vaccination. These are the figures given by Spain’s ambassador Fraile, who also praises the European Union.

Spain’s ambassador Fraile quotes these figures and praises the European Union. No one was prepared for such a crisis, she says, and the EU negotiated better than any member state could have done on its own. That was “great”, even if there was criticism that “one or the other would have got more”, she says, without mentioning Austria. There was also no sign of a long delay. There are only two to three weeks between Great Britain and the EU for vaccination. Teachers and other groups in Spain have been vaccinated with Astra Zeneca. For the second vaccination, there is freedom of choice in the vaccine. If a dose from Astra Zeneca is desired for the second time, a declaration must be signed stating that this is desired.

Report: Edgar Schütz and Brigitte Rambossek. Photos: B.Rambossek


12 April 2021 at 6 p.m.

AEJ Online Meeting

Situation of the media in Hungary and Orban’s policy in the EU

Othmar Karas: “The EU is too weak for Orban’s lies”.

The European Union is “too weak” to counter the “lies and propaganda” of the pro-government media in Hungary. This was the view of EU Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas (EPP) during an online discussion of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) on Monday evening. “We need more effective instruments to ensure that our values are respected”.

Karas hopes that the EU Future Conference in particular will provide an impetus for a European public sphere. The problem of restrictions on media freedom, increasing authoritarianism and a lack of rule of law is not unique to Hungary, but has “many faces and many names,” said the EP Vice-President and ÖVP MEP. He referred to Greece, Slovakia, Malta, Poland and other EU Member States.

Katalin Halmai: Control over Corona reports

The Brussels correspondent of the non-governmental Budapest daily “Nepszava” and President of the Brussels press association API/IPA, Katalin Halmai, described how the national conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in her home country extended its control over reporting during the Corona pandemic. In an open letter to the government, for example, 28 Hungarian media had demanded that unrestricted access to hospitals and interviews with medical staff be allowed again. 225 questions posed by media to the Corona task force have all gone unanswered, Halmai said.

“Dead bodies are being concealed”

In the state-controlled media, dead bodies were concealed, the situation in other European countries was portrayed as much worse than in Hungary, and Russian and Chinese vaccines imported by Hungary were highlighted. On three official Corona websites in the country, there is no data on the number of intensive care patients or regional breakdown of the pandemic. When asked, Hungarian journalists received quicker answers even from China than from the Hungarian government, “can you imagine?” the correspondent said.

“Activists and liars”

The recent attack by Hungarian state television on a “profil” journalist was normal everyday work for Hungarian colleagues, but what was new was that now Austrian media representatives were also being attacked, Halmai said. Anyone who asks a question is denounced as an activist or liar.

Rubina Möhring: “We have to be careful”.

“Reporters without Borders (RSF/ROG) Austria” President Rubina Möhring mentioned in this context that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) had stood up for the Austrian “profil” journalist. “We have to be grateful to him for that,” Möhring said. For the rest, the ROG president was rather combative: journalists are now also being attacked by politicians in Austria, she noted critically. “We have to pay attention!”

Furthermore, Möhring said that the lack of diversity in newspapers was also a problem in Austria, especially the future of the “Wiener Zeitung”. “The government wants to kill the most traditional daily newspaper, the Wiener Zeitung.” Most Austrian daily newspapers are owned by conservatives, Möhring said. In addition, there is the “Standard”, which continues to be liberal, and the weekly “Falter”, “which is now under attack by the Kurz government”, Möhring said. Karas countered that he was already fighting for the “Wiener Zeitung” for the third time. A possible solution could be a new focus of the newspaper, for example for foreigners in Austria.

Scott Griffen: “Creeping Processes”

The deputy-director of the International Press Institute (IPI), Scott Griffen, said that the situation of the media in Hungary has long since ceased to be a solely Hungarian problem, but a European one. “Ten years ago it was a Hungarian issue. That would have been the time for something to be done about it. “Now it is too late, and there is a danger that the Orban model will be exported to other EU countries. It is spreading across the borders.” For example, to Poland or Slovenia, Griffen said.

This is not a repressive model as in Turkey, where journalists are imprisoned, Griffen said. Rather, the influence runs through indirect control, “for example, through the ownership structures, which are controlled by the state”. Or via tax policy. According to the expert, these processes have been creeping over the years. Austria’s media are not safe from such processes. “One cannot say that Austria is on the Hungarian path, but it is known that there are problems here, too. One has to be careful,” Griffen also warned.

Report: APA (Edgar Schütz and Thomas Schmidt)

Zoom photos: B.Rambossek and E.Pfisterer

AEJ journalists from France, Belgium, Ireland and Bulgaria also participated in the Zoom event.


Othmar Karas

Othmar Karas is Vice-President of the European Parliament, President of “Hilfswerk Österreich” and Chairman of the non-party “BürgerforumEuropa”, which he founded as a think tank and dialogue platform. He is also a lecturer at the Danube University Krems, the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and the University of Vienna. Othmar Karas was a Member of the Austrian Parliament and Secretary General of the Austrian People’s Party before he was elected to the European Parliament in 1999.

Rubina Möhring

Rubina Möhring is President of Reporters Without Borders Austria (ROG/RSF) in Vienna. Until March 2010, she was head of editorial at ORF 3Sat, responsible for the areas of culture and science as well as for the 3Sat magazines “nano” and “kulturzeit”. Since 2010 she has been a freelance author and publicist. Her academic activities include university lectureships at the Universities of Vienna and Innsbruck as well as lecturing and sponsoring the course “Rubina Möhring – Quality Journalism” at the Danube University Krems.

Katalin Halmai

Katalin Halmai is the Brussels correspondent of the independent Hungarian daily NÉPSZAVA. She has been working as a Hungarian journalist in Belgium since 2001. She is covering mostly EU and NATO issues.

Scott Griffen

Scott Griffen is deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, publishers and journalists defending press freedom since 1950. He is the author of numerous IPI reports on diverse topics related to press freedom and independent journalism and has led or participated in dozens of IPI press freedom missions around the world, including recently in Hungary, Mexico, Tanzania and Turkey. Griffen comments regularly on issues related to press freedom and media pluralism in international media. He holds degrees from Yale University and King’s College London.



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