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Austrian newspaper editors warn on police raids and growing press freedom threats

Five leading Austrian newspaper editors have voiced their fears in editorials to alert the public that the authorities may be preparing to raid media offices, AEJ president and senior profil journailst Otmar Lahodynsky  writes.

The exceptional alerts follow a warning from Austria’s Freedom Party interior minister against journalists ‘meddling‘ in state secrets, as he put it.

In an interview with Austrian public broadcaster ORF the minister of Interior, Herbert Kickl from the far-right FPO (Freedom Party) - which formed a coalition with conservative OVP last year, threatened investigative journalists that they face ‚consequences‘ if they meddle with state secrets.

Mr Kickl was behind a police-raid earlier this year on the Austrian state security agency  BVT (Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekampfung). As a consequence the BVT-chief and other leading officials were suspended but later were able to resume their positions following court rulings.

Five editors-in-chief of leading Austrian media – Die Presse, Der Standard, Kurier, News and profil- warned in seperate but coordinated editorials in recent days that media freedom in Austria is under threat and that some media could face police raids on their offices.

„No coincidence and no hysteria“ wrote profil-editor-in-chief Christian Rainer. „We heard from several sources that there were talks in the ministry of interior about making raids on media offices, to confiscate hard discs and seize research materials.“ Austria’s protection of editorial secrets ends when journalists are suspects in court cases.

Other leading journalists have speculated that Austria may copy the authoritarian politics of countries like Hungary or Poland. A spokesman for the minister of the Interior has denied that raids on media premises are being planned.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (OVP) has spoken out publicly in defence of media-freedom and pluralism. But recently a Freedom Party member, Norbert Steger, was appointed as head of the suoprevisory board of the public broadcaster ORF.  Mr Steger caused controvesy by threatening action against reporters who fail to report objectively about elections in Hungary or other matters.

A new regulation also prohibits ORF journalists from using social media to share information and comments about their work or political developments.