The Austrian Ministry of the Interior vs. freedom of press

We thought things couldn't get worse, but the current government outdid itself, says the Austrian opposition.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
The Austrian Ministry of the Interior vs. freedom of press - NewsMavens
Herbert Kickl. Wikicommons.

Why this story matters:

Many Austrians were shocked to hear the Freedom Party-led Ministry of the Interior declare that the police should try to avoid communicating with critical media. And they are right to be shocked, writes Irene Brickner in the article below:

"Never since 1945 has it been made so clear by the security department that freedom of the press only applies to media who obey the police."

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz condemned Home Secretary Herbert Kickl's plans, and the opposition accused him of being a threat to media freedom and democracy.

The Austrian Journalists' Union sees the gesture as a "dangerous line crossed". Reporters Without Borders spoke of a systematic attack on press freedom and democracy in a broadcast.

Herbert Kickl distanced himself from his department spokesman's recommendations, and spoke out in favor of press freedom.

But this is not enough to shield the press from the hostile winds blowing from Kickl's Ministry of the Interior. Chancellor Kurz claims that press freedom is non-negotiable, but now his words must be followed by deeds.

Details from the story:

  • On the evening of September 24, 2018, Der Standard published an article about a letter from the ministerial office of Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ).
  • Reportedly, the department spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, Christoph Pölzl, sent an email to all police directorates instructing them to keep their communications to a bare minimum when interacting with newspapers critical of the Federal Ministry. Der Standard, Kurier and Falter were named.
  • It was recommended that these critical media should not be allowed "privileges" unless "neutral or even positive reporting" is expected.
  • The Ministry of the Interior also recommended explicitly mentioning the citizenship and residence status of suspects in reports because the population and the media have a "legitimate interest" in the matter and the Ministry of the Interior wants to ensure "maximum transparency" in this regard.
  • The directive of the Ministry of Interior contradicts a 2016 decree of the Ministry of Justice, which states that "an ethnic or religious group or personal characteristics (skin color, etc.)" should be referred to only when absolutely necessary".

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