The director of the Austrian state run TV channel ORF has said that the station will take legal action to stop a court seizing video material that is protected by laws on the confidentiality of sources
ORF General-Director Alexander Wrabetz said in an internal email today that protecting journalism sources was a “central element of a functioning democracy.”
He said that the wide-ranging public debate about the court order in the past view days had shown that there was a broad consensus about the need for the vigorous protection of press freedom in the country.
A complaint is also going to be filed at the European Court of Human Rights to protect the basic right to freedom of speech, he said.
The Austrian court has failed to demonstrate proportionality in its order to seize video material that has never been transmitted and never will be transmitted or to present a convincing argument that it is breaching laws on confidentiality in order to prevent some other severe damage or clear up some severe crime that it has reasonable grounds to believe occurred.
Its action can, therefore, be interpreted as the misuse of the law to assault a basic principle of press freedom and as an act of terror.
Taken in isolation, the incident is serious enough. Seen together with other developments, such as the illegal interrogation of investigative journalists reporting on banking scandals this month by state prosecutors as well as the failure of state prosecutors to pursue evidence of fraud by banks, it can be seen as part of a systematic and concerted attack against investigative journalists highlighting banking scandals involving high ranking German and Austrian politicians that the Austrian justice system is trying to suppress.
Fears have been raised that the last glimmers of a free and critical media in the country could be extinguished unless quick and effective action is taken to protect investigative journalists in their work.