European Federation of Journalists

Austrian Interior Ministry attempts to restrict freedom of press

The intention of the Austrian Interior Ministry to restrict communication to “critical media” has been revealed in an email leaked to the press on Tuesday 25 September. In the four pages email, top ministry spokesman Christoph Pölzl, explicitly demanded regional police to “restrict communication with these media to only the most necessary (legally required) degree”. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliate in Austria, GPA-djp and Younion, in condemning this attack on press freedom.

The media labeled as “critical” include the dailies Der Standard and Kurier as well as the weekly Falter. According to the Ministry, they have “operated a very one-sided and negative coverage of the interior Ministry and the police.” Therefore, the given suggestion is to limit as much as legally possible the information given to those media and not to grant them any kind of “privileges”.

Furthermore, the emails goes on naming the ones “that are willing to cooperate” and agrees on crucial issues such as migration.

The Ministry replied to the critics claiming that the list was only “suggestions” with no legal obligations for the police. It also added that the message was to deal with those media with “caution”, based on “longstanding experience of communication employees” at the Ministry.

Both journalists’ unions, the GPA-djb and Younion _ Die Daseinsgewerkschaft, firmly denounced the order to cut off media. They called on civil society to be vigilant and warn them about the authoritarian shift taken by the Ministry.

“The road to an authoritarian regime leads through the restriction of media freedom. The Austrian Interior Minister misuses the police authorities in order to place his political message. In Austria, any attempts to influence the fourth power in the state must be rejected once and for all. Each and every medium should have equal and free access to information. Discrimination of individual media must not occur. Public authorities have an obligation to inform the media comprehensively and thus enable citizens to participate in the democratic discussion,” stated Thomas Kattnig, Member of Younion Federal Executive Board.

GPA-djp executive chairman, Barbara Teiber, called this act “a dangerous border crossing” and commented: “The Interior Minister should bear in mind that he and his services are financed by taxpayers’ money and that it is therefore their duty to provide the public with comprehensive and objective information. Fortunately, we have the certainty that the overwhelming majority of journalists, editors-in-chief and publishers will oppose this policy.”

Austria’s Prime Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, also critizised the proposal.

The EFJ recalls with concern that the Minister of Interior, Herbert Kickl, in a recent broadcast on ORF in June, suggested that certain journalists may be under investigation for their reporting on the work of the Austrian intelligence services.

Credit photo: Flickr/Thomas Quine.