Our International president, Austrian Otmar Lahodynsky, from Die Presse is worried about the moves by Austrian politician Norbert Steger from the Right Wing Government Party FPO (and a member of the board of trustees of Austrian Public Broadcaster ORF) to limit the editorial  independence of ORF correspondents.  Another sign of how also in the West the independent work of correspondents comes under pressure.

President of Association of European Journalists, Otmar Lahodynsky, slams “intimidation” of journalists by senior politician in new government’s junior partner, the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ). Such moves to compromise the editorial independence of state radio and TV (ORF) “must be stopped in their tracks”.

AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky today joined leading Austrian broadcaster Armin Wolf in denouncing threats by the FPÖ Board of Trustees’ Norbert Steger, who has threatened to have a third of all correspondents fired “if they do not behave correctly”.

Steger, 72, FPÖ party leader from 1980 -86 and briefly Austrian Vice-Chancellor, has been bitterly outspoken about ORF reportage of recent parliamentary elections in Hungary, a campaign marked by relentless anti-immigrant tirades, as “one-sided”. The new heads of broadcasting and editors-in-chief would have to “take steps to ensure more objective reporting,” Steger said.

A veteran profil foreign correspondent and author, Lahodynsky said Steger was plainly trying to bully ORF journalists, demanding new rules for their online behaviour in social media. Steger’s line, that anyone who flouts the rules “will first get a warning, then be fired,” was “outrageous”, he said.

“He has plainly disqualified himself as a potential chairman of the FPÖ Board of Trustees,” Lahodynsky said. As for Steger’s statement that the public broadcaster’s mission needed “an update”, this raised the alarm about the coalition government’s position in the on-going debate about a new ORF law.

“Normal democratic governments can’t, and don’t seek to, regulate reportage as and when it suits them,” Lahodynsky said. But Steger plainly wanted carte blanche to replace critical journalists, “as is increasingly the practice in Eastern Europe, and of course Turkey. Is that the direction in which we really want to go in Austria?”

Founded in 1962, the journalists’ association has over 15 national sections. It has regularly criticized inadmissible interference by EU governments with free media and public broadcasters, most recently in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.