27 February 2001


Austrian journalists have been facing numerous personal attacks, an increase in interference in their work, and multiple lawsuits, according to a new report from Reporters sans frontières (RSF). The actions of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), which joined a coalition government in February 2000, are of particular concern. The FPÖ's leading figure, Jörg Haider, has generated international controversy over past pro-Nazi statements. RSF notes that denunciation of the media, which he considers to have a left-wing bias, has also been a constant feature of Haider's rhetoric since 1986.

Libel lawsuits have been part of the FPÖ's strategy for years, says RSF. The party launched a new wave of court cases in autumn 1999 against academics, intellectuals, artists, journalists and even small student newspapers. One weekly, "Profil," reportedly has about 20 cases to defend at present. RSF says these lawsuits are aimed at polishing the FPÖ's tarnished image. During the period when Austria was subject to European Union (EU) sanctions last year, charges were systematically laid against those who referred to the ideological similarity between the FPÖ and national-socialism.

RSF reports that the two government parties, the FPÖ and the conservative ÖVP, are increasingly intervening in the work of editorial staff responsible for political news at public sector broadcasters, which have a quasi-monopoly over both radio and television. A further issue of concern is Austria's uncharacteristically high degree of media ownership concentration, with two press groups owning most of the newspapers. The tabloid "Die Kronenzeitung" alone has a 43 percent market share. RSF says the paper's content is often described as racist, xenophobic, revisionist and hardly different from the ideological tendencies that contributed to Haider's electoral success in October 1999.

"The existence of certain parties in the government who have authoritarian tendencies, the perpetuation of state monopoly over television and an atypical press market concentration are three factors hindering full freedom of expression in Austria," says RSF. The organisation asks FPÖ leaders to end the multiple attacks and pressure on journalists, and urges the EU to maintain its vigilance regarding pluralism and freedom of information in Austria. RSF's report is available at http://www.rsf.fr.">http://www.rsf.fr">http://www.rsf.fr.


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