Austria: new attack on freedom of the press?

A new law could severely restrict the verburgte right to freedom of information

For the second time since the ex-Haider lawyer and current justice minister took office (gag order for Austrian journalists?), a draft law is causing a stir among Austria’s media professionals. The spread of "secret" Information is to be prevented under threat of imprisonment, if the public security is threatened "compromised" is.

Austrian journalists who want to uncover scandals or problematic procedures in the administration that have been kept secret could find it more difficult in the future. The draft of the so-called Information Security Act, which is basically intended to protect military information, is so vaguely worded that numerous reviewers – from the journalists’ union to representatives of the state governments – have expressed grave concerns. Ironically, the bill was drafted in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is headed by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who came under fire this summer for her loose handling of personal data on the members of the Volxtheater detained in Genoa.

The Viennese city newspaper Falter complains in its latest ie that a violation of the law could result in a prison sentence of up to one year. And above all: "It is already enough to ‘interfere’ with these state interests (note. comprehensive national defense, public security, economic interests of the federal government) to go behind bars. Expressly, the explanatory notes to the law state that the ‘occurrence of damage is not presupposed’."

Thus, whoever would have chosen "secret" who wants to quote files or ministerial directives – and that is what investigative journalists do more often than not – may fear for his freedom if the law is passed in its current form.

Accordingly, the reactions of the media representatives were also harsh. The Falter quotes, among others, journalists’ unionist Franz C. Farmer, who "ublen attack on the freedom of the press" locates. The criminal lawyer confirms: "If a journalist approaches an official and publishes a secret document, he is liable to prosecution.

Even the lawyers in the Viennese state government are apparently worried about media freedom: "Such penal provisions also seem to have a tendency to prevent critical journalism." Like many other experts, the Viennese government officials criticize that it is completely unclear who, how and under what circumstances information should be classified as worthy of protection. "The description of the information covered by the secrecy protection is by no means determined, and it is obvious that it will be susceptible to misuse in practice", judge the Viennese lawyers.

Even experts in the justice department were apparently not very happy about the information security law. In a statement, they critically note that "the tension between the protection of secrets on the one hand and the fundamental values indispensable for a democratic society (especially the fundamental right to freedom of expression) on the other" becomes.

The provisions are so vague that many experts fear drastic restrictions of the freedom of information for all Austrian citizens. But if the two governing parties have their way, the law should be passed as quickly as possible. Already for 13. A meeting of the House Policy Committee has been scheduled for November.

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