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Austria


-  Surface area: 83,850 sq. km.

-  Population: 8,080,000

-  Language: German

-  Type of State: federal republic

-  Head of State: Thomas Klestil

-  Head of Government:

-  Wolfgang Schüssel



Austria - Annual report 2002

The slow pace of opening up the state radio and TV monopoly to competition, as well as an unusual concentration of ownership in the written media, remain obstacles to full freedom of expression. The authorities also have plans to strictly regulate investigative journalism.

The courts reasserted their independence in 2001 after the dozens of personal attacks, lawsuits and pressure from the far-right against journalists that marred the record in 2000. The media also regained their ability to resist pressure from one of the parties in the ruling coalition with a taste for authoritarianism. Political influence on the media in Austria was notable even before the advent in February 2000 of the coalition government of conservatives (the ÖVP) and the far-right FPÖ party of Jörg Haider. Interference with the media by political parties has been the custom in Austria since 1945 and was done by both the conservatives and the social democrats and during their coalition government up to 2000.

Until the end of 2001, Austria was the last country in Europe where there was still a state monopoly of TV and radio. A law ending it came into effect on 1 January 2002, authorising the establishment of private TV stations alongside the state-run ORF and creating a new audiovisual regulatory body, Komm-Austria.

The ORF monitoring committee was supposedly "depoliticised," but most members of the new committee were appointed by the parties in the new government and this majority elected a new ORF director-general on 21 December. Under the new law governing the ORF, the committee can give orders to the ORF management, not just make recommendations as before. All the top posts in the ORF are now officially vacant as part of a general restructuring whose effects on the ORF’s independent remain to be seen.

The configuration of the written press is also unusual by European standards. Two groups own most of the newspapers and magazines in a market of six million readers. The trend in recent years towards narrower ownership speeded up in 2001 when most news magazines came under the control of one group, News, and closer ties were established between News and the two groups controlling the written daily press. These recent link-ups are a very worrying prospect for media diversity in Austria.

Justice minister Dieter Böhmdorfer, the former lawyer of Jörg Haider, said that after exposure of corruption shook the ruling coalition in 2000, he would strictly regulate investigative journalism. An attempt to reform the criminal code to punish disclosure of confidential information in the early stages of the legal process was energetically opposed by the media in May. The minister agreed to drop provisions for imprisonment but said he would otherwise stand by his proposals. He said on 10 May that "Austria does not need investigative journalists" since "the police and courts operate well without them and journalists were not needed to expose scandal." A new version of the proposed law is being prepared.

Pressure and obstruction

Journalist Karl Pfeiffer was accused in March 2001 by the newspaper Zur Zeit, which is close to Jörg Haider’s party, of having caused the suicide in May 2000 of political scientist Werner Pfeifenberger. The paper made anti-Semitic insinuations against Pfeiffer, who is suing the editor for libel.

A court in Vienna on 7 May upheld the appeal of journalist Christian Rainer, editor of the magazines Profil and Trend, against his conviction for libelling Haider, who he had said used "Nazi vocabulary." As a result, on 22 May, Haider dropped similar libel suits against Hans Rauscher of the newspaper Standard and against Süddeutsche Zeitung, which had printed side by side quotes by Haider and Hitler. The Viennese weekly Falter was acquitted on 14 March in another libel case brought by Haider, who accused it of reprinting a cover of News magazine depicting him as the devil with horns. Political scientist Anton Pelinka was also acquitted in April of libelling Haider by saying on Italian TV that he "trivialised Nazi crimes."



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see also
Introduction
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Africa annual report 2002
Asia annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002