Austria: Social media guideline endangers freedom of expression

Austria: Social media guideline endangers freedom of expression

A guideline on behavior in social media puts the journalists of the Austrian public broadcast ORF under pressure again. In the future, journalists of the ORF should resign from political opinion “even in the private sphere”, as a guideline of ORF director Alexander Wrabetz proposes. “This is an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression and the press,” Rubina Möhring, the president of Reporters Without Borders, is alarmed. “Fundamental rights such as freedom of expression must also apply to critical voices.”

The ORF has long been in the focus of attacks from the federal government. Journalists have been personally attacked, threatened with the dismissal of numerous foreign correspondents by right-wing FPÖ board of trustees member Norbert Steger and the abolition of public funding had been advertised. 
The adoption of the long-promised social media guidelines by Alexander Wrabetz for all ORF staff is another step towards more pressure on independent journalism and critical comments on the government which consists of the right-wing FPÖ and the conservative ÖVP.

A draft of the guidelines, released on Tuesday, shows dramatically extensive cuts. In the future, all “public statements and comments in social media should be avoided, which are to be interpreted as approval, rejection or evaluation of utterances, sympathy, antipathy, criticism and ‘polemics’ towards political institutions, their representatives or members.” Such statements are extremely broadly phrased: Likes, dislikes or shares already count as part of the expression of opinion.

The fact that journalists are restricted in their freedom of expression is not only problematic for the journalists themselves, emphasizes Rubina Möhring. “If the freedom of expression of an individual is restricted, everyone’s freedom of expression is threatened. This is a dangerous step towards regulations within an authoritarian regime.” Reporters Without Borders Austria therefore demands of ORF Director Alexander Wrabetz to withdraw his social media guideline and not bow to the pressure of the ÖVP-FPÖ government.

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