Austria rises in press freedom rating ‘despite negative occurrences’

Austria has improved year on year in the Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom rating but only because the situation in other countries has worsened, the NGO’s Austrian branch has stressed.Reporters Without Borders (RWB) announced today (Thurs) Austria came seventh, up six positions compared to its 2009 list. Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland shared first place in the organisation’s ranking. The NGO praised these countries as role models for protecting and acknowledging journalists’ work.Thirteen of the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states made the top 20 of the 2010 ranking of RWB. The NGO criticised that the other 14 countries did rather badly. France only reached 44th place while Italy came 49th, just three positions higher than Romania.China, North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Turkmenistan and Eritrea were ranked worst.Reporters Without Borders Austria (ROG Österreich) said the situation in Austria was “good despite some negative occurrences”.The NGO referred to German prosecutors’ recent decision to question Austrian journalists after they revealed statements made by former Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA) managers.Two reporters of weekly magazine profil and one writer of rival publication News cited interrogation records dealing with HGAA’s near collapse. The struggling bank, which was taken over by Germany’s BayernLB (Bayerische Landesbank) in 2007, had to be nationalised last year.German prosecutors controversially regard the Austrian business journalists who have uncovered various secret investigation developments in the case over the past few months, as defendants.It is not illegal to cite from records of interrogations in Austria but a breach of law to do so in Germany. The Munich state prosecution stressed its concern that both magazines were available via subscription in Germany. Reporters in Germany face up to one year in jail and a fine for the offence.The Viennese state prosecution came under fire for cooperating with their German colleagues in the questioning of the three Austrian writers. Viennese officials subsequently said it was “a mistake and a misunderstanding” to do so.Respected newspapers and magazines across Europe wrote about the disputed developments and showed solidarity with their Austrian colleagues.Social Democratic (SPÖ) media secretary Josef Ostermayer reacted by presenting plans to reform the Austrian media law to ensure the work of journalists was better protected.Various market-leading publications have been accused of being close to political decision-makers, while investigative magazines like profil have often been praised for disclosing controversial malpractices.