Austria | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Austria

Austria

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

21

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

8

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

5

The federal constitution and the Media Law of 1981 provide the basis for free media in Austria. Freedom of information legislation is in place, and the government generally respects these provisions in practice. Libel and slander laws protect politicians and other government officials and in some cases lead to self-censorship. In the last eight years, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has overturned the guilty verdicts in 15 Austrian defamation cases. According to a new 2007 report released by Article 19, “a large number of [these] defamation cases in Austria are brought by public officials and even judges themselves.” In fact, in November 2006 the ECHR overturned the decisions in three cases brought to trial by public figures on defamation charges related to articles published in a single newspaper, Der Standard. These most recent ECHR verdicts, coupled with the fact that six new Austrian defamation cases were brought before the ECHR this year, have led many press freedom advocates to push the Austrian government to revise its stringent libel laws. Any form of pro-Nazism or anti-Semitism is prohibited by law, as is Holocaust denial. After two high-profile cases in 2006, including the sentencing of British author David Irving to three years in prison, there was only one Holocaust denial conviction in 2007. Gerd Honsik, who published books in the late 1980s questioning the facts of the Holocaust, was sentenced in December 2007 to 18 months in jail. Separately, a Danish cartoonist, Jan Egesborg, was arrested in a Vienna subway station while putting up posters depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin at the center of a target prior to Putin’s visit. The posters were intended to question Putin’s involvement in the shooting of journalists. Egesborg was charged with possible incitement allegedly because the use of the target might encourage others to commit a crime, but the charges were later dropped.

Since 2004’s Broadcasting Law amendments, Austria’s public broadcaster, which operates two television stations and four radio channels, faces growing competition for audiences from private broadcasters. Cable and satellite are widely available and are often used to watch German stations, some of which tailor programming for the Austrian audience. Daily newspapers, both national and regional, are very popular and compete fiercely for readers. Foreign investors have a solid presence in the predominantly privately owned print market, and ownership concentration is high. Many radio stations have ties to print outlets, and additionally there is cross-ownership of daily and weekly newspapers. Press subsidies help newspapers survive and are designed to encourage pluralism. Internet access is unrestricted and was made use of by more than 56 percent of the population in 2007.