Austrian leader defends press freedom after email leak
BERLIN (AP) — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz insisted Tuesday that any attempt to restrict press freedom was “unacceptable,” in the wake of a reported suggestion from an interior ministry official that police limit contact with critical media to a minimum.
Kurz’s comments on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came after the Der Standard and Kurier newspapers said they obtained an email from the official to regional police forces complaining of “very one-sided and negative reporting.”
An extract published by Der Standard, which was mentioned as one such critical outlet, said: “I allow myself to suggest limiting communication with these media to the absolutely (legally foreseen) necessary.”
The Austria Press Agency reported that Kurz said “there can be no exclusion or boycott of selected media” in Austria and that “any restriction of press freedom is unacceptable.”
“That goes for those in charge of communication at all ministries and public institutions,” he said, adding that also goes for political parties.
The interior ministry is run by the far-right Freedom Party, the conservative Kurz’s junior coalition partner in the coalition government that took office in December.
The ministry said in a statement issued late Monday that the email contained “suggestions and comments” but no instructions or orders.
It was sent by a ministry spokesman and was neither ordered up nor received by Interior Minister Herbert Kickl or his top officials, the statement added. It said that new guidelines for “transparent media communication” will be drawn up shortly.
The head of Reporters Without Borders’ Austrian branch, Rubina Moehring, said of the email that “this is an incredible, unacceptable restriction on the freedom of the press.” She called for Kickl’s resignation.