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Legal challenge brings an end to the state monopoly on TV and radio

Informationsverein Lentia and Others v. Austria  | 1993

Legal challenge brings an end to the state monopoly on TV and radio

Background

During the late 1970s and 1980s, various Austrians wanted to set up local television or radio stations. For example, the owners of Radio Melody GmbH wanted to set up a local radio station in Salzburg.

However, they discovered that it was unlawful for anyone other than the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast TV or radio in Austria,. The Post and Telecommunications Office refused to allow any other person or company to broadcast, and this decision was upheld by the Austrian courts.

A group of individuals, organisations and companies applied to the European Court of Human Rights. They argued that the rules were designed to give the authorities political control of the audiovisual industry, limiting pluralism and artistic freedom. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court noted the fundamental role of freedom of expression in a democratic society: the press provides information and ideas of general interest, which the public is entitled to receive. This cannot be done without pluralism.

The court ruled that the ban on broadcasting – and the monopoly of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation - had been disproportionate. It had violated the applicants’ right to provide information, and was not necessary in a democracy. 

Follow-up

This judgment opened up cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as local and regional radio. A Constitutional Court decision in 1995 lifted the ban on transmitting original programmes via cable.