The reporter standing in the sun outside the Vienna government building is grinning.
– I have no comment on that, you say.
The question that she smiles at and does not want to comment on is about her employer.
Austrian media company Österreich is accused of taking bribes by Sebastian Kurz and his closest associates. In exchange for advertising the money, the company’s newspaper Ostrich was said to have directed its news reporting in the chancellor’s favour. The money received by the newspaper comes from the Ministry of Finance. If the accusations were true, it was the taxpayers who were forced to pay the bribes.
You hear the newspaper Österreich To the country’s so-called “Boulevards” – tabloids that attract readers with articles such as “Mother and daughter with the same man” or “How to put a little dog to sleep”. But the newspaper also writes in detail about the political development in Austria.
Georg Minko, 63, who passes the newspaper’s editorial office on Vienna’s Friedrichstrasse, says he reads it every day. He says he does not think the newspaper is any less credible than other media outlets in the country.
Everyone is influenced by different interests, says George Minko.
In Austria, it is not uncommon for governments at the state and national levels to buy newspaper ads. It could be about information about coronary strictures, but also about advertising for political reform. The fact that a newspaper was suspected of allowing ad money to control news reporting is disastrous, says Robina Moring, head of Reporters Without Borders in Austria.
– This damages the confidence of all media, she says.
The media company Österreich wrote on its website that the charges were removed out of thin air.
– It is clear that the investigation is based on a serious misunderstanding, The newspaper writes in a statement.
But the scandal is not The first to shake the media scene in the country. Ten years ago, then chancellor and Social Democrat Werner Faymann was accused of using his position of power to influence the content of the popular Kronen Zeitung newspaper. However, Faymann has not been convicted of any crime.
Kronen Zeitung was also implicated in the so-called Ibiza scandal, which broke out after the then Vice-Chancellor discussed electoral influence with someone who was believed to be linked to a Russian oligarch. In the conversation, the vice chancellor boasted that he could decide on the content of the newspaper, and that journalists were “the biggest whores in the world.”
Fabian Schmid Who works as a political reporter for Austria’s Der Standard newspaper, says all the country’s media must now work hard to prove they are independent.
– I think you should be very careful about explaining how you work. That’s why it’s important for journalists and editors to meet with top politicians, but it should never be done to raise publicity money or benefit personal careers, he says.
Robina Moring on Reporters Without Borders says independent journalism in Austria could be strengthened by changing the rules for who receives journalistic support. Nowadays, newspapers with the largest circulation receive the largest contribution.
– Of course it should be the other way around, she says.
In the wake of the scandal, Sebastian Kurz resigned. His party colleague Alexander Schallenberg was appointed as the new chancellor. The opposition criticizes the fact that the Turquoise ÖVP consequently retains its governmental power, despite accusations of corruption and bribery.
Robina Moring says the scandal has given the media a wake-up call. She hopes the investigation will lead to a conviction.
– It will constitute an important protection against corruption in the future, she said.
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