We are worried to see a series of attacks against the prominent TV anchor Armin Wolf. He received several verbal attacks, during and following a long-planned interview with Harald Vilimsky, who is the front runner for the Austrian right-wing party FPÖ at the upcoming European election. The FPÖ is the junior partner in the government with the center-right ÖVP, who appears to consent to the behaviour of its coalition partner through silence.
The attacks were triggered by a question of Armin Wolf, in which he asked Vilimsky to explain the difference in the visual language between a poster by the youth wing of the FPÖ and a poster by “Der Stürmer”, an antisemitic newspaper from the Nazi-era. The question was a result of a recent scandal, where the FPÖ compared migrants to rats in a poem.
Already during the interview Vilimsky called the question scandalous and tasteless, something that “can’t stay without consequences”. The FPÖ interpreted the question as an attack on the party by left-wing journalists and generally frames the ORF as partisan media.
The day after the interview, Vilimsky even demanded that Wolf should be fired. The head of the FPÖ and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache supported Vilimsky by saying the interview was obnoxious and then demanded that the president of the ORF should explain the objectivity imperative, a part of the Austrian media law, to Wolf. The head of the ORF’s board of trustees, Norbert Steger by the FPÖ, added fuel to the fire by saying he would recommend Wolf to take a sabbatical. Ursula Stenzel, another FPÖ politician, even ridiculously said, the interrogatory inflection of Wolf would be suitable for a people’s court, a special court of Nazi Germany. In the same interview she compared Wolf to a character from a stage play who impersonates a hangman.
Only two days after the interview the FPÖ released their official campaign video for the EU election, in which Armin Wolf has a cameo-appearance as a biased journalist named “Armina Wolf”.
Reporters Without Borders Austria highly condemns the denunciation of Armin Wolf and of the ORF as a whole. The attacks only serve to weaken critical media in Austria and to intimidate independent journalists, a strategy now commonly used by the ÖVP-FPÖ-government. Austria has recently fallen five ranks in the index of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders as a result of various personal verbal attacks, mainly by politicians. “The attacks on Armin Wolf, following his interview as well as in an election video of the FPÖ seem to be part of an orchestrated campaign against independent journalism. We are extremely worried that the governing parties in Austria not only seem to ignore the issue of declining press freedom, but actively want to destroy critical media.”, says Rubina Möhring, president of Reporters Without Borders Austria.