23 March 2007


ARTICLE 19 criticises excessive defamation cases, media concentration, weak access to information

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 22 March 2007 ARTICLE 19 press release:

ARTICLE 19 urges UN committee to address defamation laws and other free speech concerns in Austria

On Monday, 26 March, the UN Human Rights Committee begins its audit of Austria's compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the main UN human rights treaty). ARTICLE 19 has submitted a Report calling on the Committee to question the Austrian Government on the large number of defamation cases in the country, the high degree of media concentration and apparent State control over the national public broadcaster, and poor implementation of the right of access to information.

The ARTICLE 19 Report points out that the European Court of Human Rights has found Austria in violation of the right to freedom of expression in fifteen cases over the last eight years, the majority of them defamation cases. This rate indicates a systemic failure of Austria's legal system in this area. It also points out that a large number of defamation cases in Austria are brought by public officials and even judges themselves, and that they often won, indicating a lack of acceptance of the principle that public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals.

ARTICLE 19 also expressed concern with regard to the lack of pluralism in the media. In the print sector, for example, one conglomerate (Kurier, Neue Kronen Zeitung) controls 63% of all dailies, 100% of political weekly magazines, and 62% of all weekly publications in Austria. The same conglomerate indirectly also holds the country's only private national radio broadcasting licence (Kronehit Radio).

Finally, the lack of an effective freedom of information law constitutes another cause for concern. For example, in the area of international trade, not enough information was being released to verify if Austria was even complying with its obligations under the EU's Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.

The UN Human Rights Committee will be meeting on 26 March to draw up a list of 'issues of concern' on Austria's implementation of the main UN human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and ARTICLE 19's report supplements the official Austrian government's report. The Committee will be meeting later this year for a question and answer session with Austrian officials, at which time we will supply additional information.

The ARTICLE 19 Report can be downloaded at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/austria-foe-submission.pdf
ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.


ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
6-8 Amwell Street
United Kingdom
info (@) article19.org
Fax:+44 20 7278 7660

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