Press Freedom Index: Austria slips to 32nd place


Austrian Press Agency reports about the worsning situation of Presse Freedom iun Austia. According to Agency reports: Austria has slipped from 29th place last year to 32nd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index 2024. According to RSF Austria President Fritz Hausjell, this is the ‘worst result’ for the Alpine republic to date. The score fell from 77.3 to 74.7 points, putting Austria in the midfield of countries categorised as ‘satisfactory’, behind Moldova and ahead of Mauritania. Only eight countries are rated as having a ‘good’ situation.
According to Hausjell, there are many reasons for Austria’s drop in the press freedom index. The judiciary is shedding light on ‘highly problematic close relationships and suspected corrupt practices between the ruling ÖVP party and a number of major media outlets’. An amendment to the Media Transparency Act would not have put a stop to the ‘uncritical allocation of lavish government adverts’ to control some journalistic media. At the same time, the ÖVP and FPÖ would attack individual journalists as alleged activists.

The RSF Austria President also criticised the fact that a ruling by the Constitutional Court (VfGH), according to which the government has too much influence in the appointment of ORF committees, has not yet been responded to with an amendment to the law. The ÖVP has drummed up support for a ban on quoting from investigation files. The variety of daily newspapers on offer shrank from 14 to just twelve titles in the previous year because the republic’s own ‘Wiener Zeitung’ and the ÖVP party newspaper ‘Oberösterreichisches Volksblatt’ were discontinued in print form.

The Freedom of Information Act, which has not yet come into force, was cited as a positive development. The distribution of digitisation funding to existing media was also welcomed in principle, even if the allocation process is not transparent.

Hausjell would consider it a ‘catastrophe for independent and diverse journalism’ if the FPÖ were to assume government responsibility. Finally, the FPÖ has repeatedly spoken out in favour of ‘basic broadcasting’ financed from the federal budget instead of the ORF, which is currently funded by a budget levy. ‘That would be extremely damaging for a small state like Austria from a democratic point of view,’ warned the RSF Austria President.

Norway tops the 180-country press freedom index for the 8th time in a row. It is followed by other northern European countries: Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Estonia. As in Portugal and Ireland, the press freedom situation there is ‘good’. From a global perspective, however, Reporters Without Borders has identified a ‘worrying deterioration in support for and respect for the independence of the media’, it said in a press release.

There have been a record number of attacks in Palestine since the outbreak of the Gaza war. More than 100 Palestinian reporters have been killed by the Israeli armed forces. At least 22 of them in the course of their work. Palestine ranks 157th, followed directly by Turkey, which imprisons journalists and weakens the media through internet censorship and judicial control. Even further behind is Russia (162), which is waging a veritable ‘battle’ against independent journalism. According to the internationally active NGO, more than 1,500 journalists have fled abroad since the invasion of Ukraine. Bringing up the rear in the press freedom index are Eritrea (180), Syria (179) and Afghanistan (178).

Ukraine moved up 18 places. The war-torn country landed in 61st place, as security for journalists in the country has improved and political interference has decreased. Germany also moved up in the ranking (10th place) because the number of attacks on journalists by right-wing extremist groups had decreased. In Poland, a new government that is more committed to the right to information resulted in an increase of ten places to 47th place. The worst performers in the European Union are Hungary (67), Malta (73) and Greece (88).