A new public broadcasting law came into force on 1 January 2002, officially ending the monopoly position of the state radio and TV (ORF). But in practice, it did not and the ORF also came under more pressure than ever from the two parties in the government coalition, the Christian conservative ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ. The process of appointing new heads of the ORF dragged on for nearly six months because the two parties could not agree.
In the written media, ownership is much narrower than elsewhere in Europe and again, an anti-monopoly law had no effect. The merger in 2001 of two news-magazines, Profil and Format, increased the power of the News and Media-Print media groups. An ÖVP plan to end press subsidies was rejected by the FPÖ. Grants to titles are made unevenly, according to the size of the paper and their political leanings. The independent press council supposed to guarantee press freedom was dissolved in June and no agreement reached to set up a new one.
A journalist arrested
The editor in chief of the Russian news agency Prima, Alexander Podrabinek, was arrested in Vienna on 21 March 2002 while covering a libel suit brought by Chechen businessman Abdullah Erzanukayev against the weekly news-magazine Profil. The journalist was with Erzanukayev and Berzali Ismailov, secretary of the Chechen Democratic Association when a police car that had been following them for several hours stopped them and checked their papers. Although Podrabinek’s were in order, he was taken to the police station at Amstetten, 100 km from Vienna, and held for four hours.
Pressure and obstruction
In early 2002, Florian Klenk, legal affairs specialist of the Viennese weekly Falter, wrote several articles about the country’s criminal code and a plan to shut down the Vienna juvenile court which had been criticised by a judge. Justice minister Dieter Böhmdorfer banned his ministry’s staff from talking to Klenk and issued a decree forbidding any interviews about the criminal code. A juvenile court judge who broke the ban was disciplined. The minister did not reply to a written protest against his action by the press council, which demanded that he guarantee free access to information for all journalists. The supreme court rejected on 1 August a libel suit by freelance journalist Karl Pfeiffer against the editor of the weekly Zur Zeit, which is close to the far-right FPÖ and which had accused him in 2001 of causing the May 2000 suicide of political scientist Werner Pfeifenberger, who had been charged with pro-Nazi activities. The paper made anti-Semitic insinuations against Pfeiffer, who said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.