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Austria: Interior Ministry Attacks Freedom of Press

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In Austria, media and many of their readers, listeners and viewers have reason to fear for the freedom of the press in their country. What happened in Washington D.C. in this regard, where President Donald J. Trump repeatedly accused news organizations of delivering “fake news” and tried to ban critical media from the White House press room and the information flow, seems to be repeating itself in Vienna, at least to a certain extent.

The radical right-wing party FPÖ, which is part of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government coalition, dislikes media which are being critical about them, to say the least. Actually, within the populist party, critical dailies and other publications are being labelled “system media” or “lefty left assignment writers”.

Now Austrian media, such as the ‘Standard’ daily, see an even bigger problem. The publication from Vienna writes, the Ministry of the Interior, run by Minister Herbert Kickl, an FPÖ member, had started “a frontal attack” on the freedom of the press.

As it turns out, the ministry sent an e-mail to the police, in which it “suggests” limiting communication with “critical media”, including the ‘Standard’, the ‘Kurier’ and the ‘Falter’, to “only the bare necessities”. Officially, the ministry sold that mail as a proposal, and not as a directive.

The ‘Standard’ daily writes, the recipients of that mail from Kickl’s ministry knew what to make of the “proposals” he had sent to them. Recently, another “advice” was received by the police, saying the nationality and resident status of suspects should be included in press releases about crimes committed in Austria. In the latest ‘Standard’ article on the matter it says the police press office in Vienna had started following that suggestion a week ago.

What may seem like a little detail to some, actually turns out to be a scandal upon closer examination since, similar to right-wing populist parties elsewhere in Europe, such as the ‘AfD’ in Germany, the FPÖ’s central demand is limiting or stopping immigration. Critics say that political organizations like them seem to find ways to connect any negative aspect to refugees, including bad weather or varicoses.

As the ‘Standard’ points out, 72 percent of all convicts registered in Austria last year were actually Austrians or nationals of other E.U. countries.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who will turn 50 in four weeks from now, used to be secretary general of the FPÖ and a speech writer for Jörg Haider, a former governor of Carinthia, who died in a car crash ten years ago, which he caused under the influence of a lot of alcohol.

Kickl was responsible for xenophobic slogans the FPÖ used in the past, such as “Viennese blood – too much foreign blood is not good for anyone”. In German, that slogan rhymes: „Wiener Blut: zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut.“

A more recent scandal erupted, when Minister Kickl said that asylum seekers should be “concentrated in one place”, in January of this year. Since “concentrating” minorities (and murdering them in concentration camps) was something the Nazis did, Kickl was asked whether he meant to provoke with his statement. He rejected the notion.

Also the so-called BVT Scandal, in which that Austrian intelligence service’s headquarters were raided and searched by police, was connected to Kickl, when critics accused him of exertion of influence in the case.

As Minister of the Interior, the position he assumed in December of 2017, he is known to arm Austria’s police. Employing more than 4,000 new police officers is part of the coalition agreement the FPÖ struck with Chancellor Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party. He lets police officers use tasers.

Critics are alarmed by many of Kickl’s statements and activities. Some say he was working on turning Austria into a police state.

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