Journalists Condemn Austrian Government Over Threat To Jail Investigative Reporters

Amidst growing concern over media developments in Austria, the International Federation of Journalists and its regional organisation, the European Federation of Journalists, today called on the Austrian Government to abandon plans to introduce new laws that would "stifle democratic debate and send decent journalists to jail".

"The government is in danger of making the media a political battleground in which the main casualty will be press freedom," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ says a plan by Dieter Böhmdorfer, Austria's Minister of Justice, to criminalise certain journalistic investigations under the code of criminal procedure "will inhibit legitimate investigative journalism. It should be abandoned immediately."

The Minister plans to outlaw the publication of court files and internal government papers considered to be "forbidden material". Journalists could be fined or jailed for up to six months for breaching the new rules.

"This is an attempt to silence media that are critical of the authorities," said Aidan White. "What is happening here is not about discretion and respect for personal privacy, but political interests trying to get the media off their backs."

The IFJ says that in the last decade right wing politicians, such as Jörg Haider's FPÖ party, used secret papers to feed media stories that discredited the government. "Now, they are in power, the government wants to block similar inquiries. It is political engineering of the worst kind," says the IFJ.

Over the past year journalists and media organisations have come under renewed pressure. The rhetoric of the new government has been hostile to critical journalism. Some journalists have been dismissed, says the IFJ. Last year's official European Commission inquiry, following the decision to isolate the new Austrian Government, criticised FPÖ actions on press freedom and specifically called for Justice Minister Böhmdorfer to resign.

The IFJ and EFJ strongly support the actions of their affiliate the KMFSB, Sektion Journalisten, which is calling for the offending part of the new criminal procedure - paragraph 56 - to be withdrawn. "This is an issue in which all Europeans have an interest," said the IFJ. "We shall take the matter up with European Union institutions, the Council of Europe and the OSCE."