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20.05.2019

Strache Affair shows the need to promote and defend press and media freedom

by ECPMF

Journalistic freedom and ethics are in the spotlight as Austria and the European political landscape are rocked by the Strache Affair.

ECPMF Statement on the Strache Affair: This case shows the need to promote and defend press freedom Austrian Parliament in Vienna. Photo: Public Domain.

The release of a video showing Heinz-Christian Strache - the former Austrian Vice Chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party - has led to the most severe of political consequences: the breakdown of the Austrian government. The government collapsed as the centre-right Austrian People’s Party ended their ruling coalition with the Freedom Party, thus triggering a snap election. The fact that this happened just over a week before the European Parliament elections make the political repercussions even more significant.

Former Vice Chancellor Strache in the video talked about a financial takeover of the Austrian Kronen Zeitung, two to three weeks before the national elections - which would have given the Freedom Party an advantage over other Austrian parties.


The financial takeover of an Austrian newspaper by actors friendly to the far-right Freedom Party would be a violation of the fundamental principle that media outlets must remain independent from political influence.

In the video mentioned above, Strache also explicitly calls for building in Austria a media landscape similar to the one that Viktor Orban has created in Hungary. Hungary’s current media landscape is one where Orban-friendly actors are taking control of both private and public broadcasters, to crowd out critical voices of his so-called 'illiberal democracy'.

Following the release of the Strache video by the German media outlets Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel, an intense debate has been raging in German-speaking journalistic circles. One debate centres around whether the creation of the video by yet undetermined sources violates ethical and legal tenets. Another discussion thread deals with whether the video's dissemination, right before the European Parliament elections, observes journalistic quality standards.


The ECPMF strongly believes that the role of a free and independent media ecosystem is one where media outlets and journalists serve to check and balance the actions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers.

Politicians like Strache and Orban want to reduce the independence of the media, seeking to remove the check on power provided by journalism.

With the European Parliament elections fast approaching and the possibility of a sizeable populist bloc that would aim to curb press freedom continent-wide, the release of the Strache video was entirely in favour of the public interest, which is one of the highest journalistic ethical considerations.