Austria’s ‘video crisis’ exposes poor treatment of media – media expert

Thousands protested in Vienna in front of the Chancellor's building in the wake of the 'Ibiza video' crisis. [EPA-EFE/FLORIAN WIESER]

In an interview with EURACTIV, the president of the Reporters Without Borders Austria spoke about the effects of the controversial ‘Ibiza video’ and why Austria is getting ever closer to the Hungarian media model.

Rubina Möhring is the president of Reporters Without Borders Austria, a journalist and lecturer at the Universities of Vienna, Innsbruck and Krems. She has been working for many years to strengthen press freedom. She spoke to EURACTIV.de’s Alicia Prager.

The video talks of restructuring the Austrian media landscape according to the Hungarian model. That was 2017. Since then, the government has clearly shown how it understands press freedom. What do you consider to be the most drastic developments? In what context was the video made public?

This shake-up happened within the context of increasing hostility towards democracy by some politicians. In this case, it is the former Vice-Chancellor, who clearly wanted to buy a newspaper to bring it under the influence of his party.

The Kronen Zeitung is the most circulated newspaper in Austria, and it was relatively friendly towards the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

In the meantime, between the video being recorded and now, a good friend of Chancellor Kurz has bought shares in Mediaprint from Germany’s Funke Group, including shares in the Kronen Zeitung and the other Austrian newspaper Kurier.

Although this differs from what Strache planned [ed.: in the video shot in Ibiza], it is not so dissimilar: buying up the newspaper and then making it align with one’s politics. That is, of course, very dangerous.

And now the game continues: The Chancellor, the former Vice-Chancellor and the Interior Minister have now gone on to give statements at press conferences, but without allowing further inquiries. This is a gross violation of the freedom of the press.

The Kronen Zeitung is very influential, reaching more than 30% of the population. What does the video’s publication mean for the relations between the Kronen Zeitung and FPÖ?

The Kronen Zeitung’s sympathy towards the FPÖ is gone. The newspaper ‘s front page published on Saturday already seemed to be very angered.

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Will the impact of the video be felt across the media landscape? Could this be a wake-up call?

I am convinced of that. I am convinced that journalists will also be more daring from now on. The video clearly shows a lack of respect for journalists.

So far, Austrian journalists have been very respectful in their dealings with politicians, but from now on they will be asking even more critical and tougher questions. This is what I expect because it is also about the honour of being a journalist, as silly as that sounds.

Until now, have journalists been too soft in their dealings with the current government?

They have not been accommodating, but they have not been very critical either.

Of course, this has a lot to do with the Austrian media landscape being very concentrated. A very large proportion is conservative. And this has already led to a population only being able to form a limited opinion. Because very few media outlets take a critical stand.

The video was published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Spiegel, two German newspapers. Why do you think the video was fed to these media outlets, instead of the Austrian media?

Probably because you could be certain that the video would actually be dealt with seriously. Of course, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel have a much larger readership than any Austrian newspaper.

That is how you ensure distribution in Austria and Germany. The fact that it was the German media, also helps in the discussion. If an Austrian media outlet had done this, it would have been accused of smearing its own country.

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How do you experience the current mood among Austrian journalists?

At the moment there is a lot of outrage because no questions could be asked during the press conferences. That is very authoritarian and is just unacceptable. Kurz is doing exactly the same as Strache, Hofer and Kickl.

And this is what is dangerous about this practice: the arrogance of politicians towards fundamental democratic rights. We are not so different from Hungary.

What happens now?

There will be new elections. I found it very strange that it took Kurz a whole day to explain this. You just cannot keep governing with a partner like that.

But he was thinking about keeping the FPÖ on board and only changing the Interior Minister. Such actions do not really go in his favour. Now, the election campaign will be very short and I fear it will also be very dirty.

These politicians’ understanding of democracy is very weak. And someday, this will, unfortunately, be transferred to society. That is a big issue and it really needs to be countered.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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