Freedom Of The Press

Graphic:  Gerd Altmann auf Pixabay 

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted under UN Resolution 217 A (III) on 10. December 1948, reads as follows: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is closely related to Article 10 – Freedom of Expression of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, of November 4, 1950. This reads: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart news or ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not preclude States from subjecting broadcasting, cinematographic or television enterprises to a licensing procedure.

(2) Since the exercise of these freedoms entails duties and responsibilities, it may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are indispensable in a democratic society in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, the maintenance of order and the prevention of crime, the protection of health and morals, the protection of the good name or rights of others, to ensure the impartiality of the administration of justice.

In Austria, the Basic State Law of 21.12.1867 is essential. It restricts in the article 13c the freedom of the press also immediately again to the framework “within the legal barriers” again: Article 13: Everyone has the right to express his opinion freely by word, writing, printing or pictorial representation within the limits of the law. The press may not be placed under censorship, nor restricted by the concession system. Administrative postal bans do not apply to domestic printed matter.

In contrast to German fundamental rights (Article 5), which are part of the German constitutional law, freedom of the press is not part of the federal constitutional law. This is despite the fact that Austria has committed itself to the following in Article 6 of the State Treaty: Article 6 (para. 1).

  1. Austria shall take all necessary measures to secure to all persons living under Austrian sovereignty, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, of the press and of publication, of worship, of political opinion and of public assembly.

Thus, media makers in Austria are only (indirectly) protected in the exercise of freedom of the press through Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 6 of the State Treaty. The second section of the Media Act contains several protective provisions for the “exercise of the journalistic profession”.

It is therefore necessary to demand that freedom of the press be enshrined – without restrictions – directly in the Federal Constitutional Law and that Austrian media law be liberalized while maintaining the protection of personality rights.

What we no longer want – and fight with all democratic means – is a return to Metternich’s pre-March surveillance state.

The background at the time. After the murder of the writer August von Kotzebue by the student Karl Ludwig Sand in March 1819, the Austrian foreign minister at the time, Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich, decreed strict measures against the opposition and the press. (Almost) every pamphlet, newspaper or magazine had to be submitted to the censorship authority. Especially Austria, but Prussia, were anxious to limit the power of the press after the failure of the revolution in 1848.

The alleged threat of terrorism means that fundamental rights are currently being eroded and freedom of the press restricted – even in democratic states – under the pretext of protecting terrorism.