16 Dec 2019 Lvl. 2
Alert created on: 29 Apr 2019 n° 49/2019 Austria

Austrian News Anchor Targeted in Intimidation Campaign

Source of threatState
CategoryHarassment and intimidation of journalists
Armin Wolf, a prominent anchor on the Austrian public broadcaster’s main evening news programme ZiB2, received a series of verbal attacks during and following an interview with a representative of Austria’s right-wing FPÖ party, which currently governs the country at the federal level in coalition with the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP). In the interview, Wolf pressed the representative, MEP Harald Vilimsky, on recent scandals involving extremist statements by party members, including a poem on migration in which the FPÖ vice mayor of the town of Braunau compared people to rats. During the interview, after Wolf drew parallels between a poster by a youth wing of the party and Nazi-era imagery, Vilimsky warned Wolf that his line of questioning “will not remain without consequences” and accused the anchor of deliberately seeking to damage the party. Vilimsky later said he would fire Wolf were he ORF’s director. In the days that followed, FPÖ officials have repeatedly attacked Wolf, with one official, a Vienna city councilwoman, comparing Wolf to a judge on the Nazi-era People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), which sentenced thousands of political opponents to death following show trials. In an interview on Sunday, the FPÖ-nominated chair of ORF’s board, Norbert Steger, said that if he were Wolf, “I would take a sabbatical, travel around the world on the taxpayers’ dime and reinvent myself”, leading observers to fear an attempt to remove Wolf. Wolf was named Austria’s journalist of the year in 2018.
16 Dec 2019: On 16 December 2019, in view of the statement by Gernot Blümel, Federal Minister of European Union, Art, Culture and Media, that “politics should not interfere in the employment of journalists, regardless of how questions or interviews are assessed”, the partner organisations to the Platform declared this case to be “resolved”, concluding it was no longer an active threat to media freedom.
16 Jun 2019
On 12 May 2019, Harald Vilimsky said in an interview with ORF that, in the interview at stake, he had reacted emotionally as he found the line of questioning manipulative and unfair. Also, he hadn’t threatened Wolf himself, but had suggested the ORF to exercise its responsibility over Wolf’s behaviour.
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