The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today expressed solidarity with Austrian news anchor Armin Wolf, who has faced repeated verbal attacks for his critical journalism.
Wolf, an evening news anchor with the public broadcaster ORF, conducted an interview last week in which he pressed a representative of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) on recent scandals involving extremist statements by party members, including a poem on migration in which the FPÖ vice mayor of the town of Braunau compared people to rats.
During the interview, after Wolf drew parallels between a poster by a youth wing of the party and Nazi-era imagery, the FPÖ representative, MEP Harald Vilimsky, warned Wolf that his line of questioning “will not remain without consequences” and accused the anchor of deliberately seeking to damage the party. In the days that followed, FPÖ officials have repeatedly attacked Wolf, with one official, a Vienna city councilwoman, comparing Wolf to a judge on the Nazi-era People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), which sentenced thousands of political opponents to death following show trials.
In an interview on Sunday, the FPÖ-nominated chair of ORF’s board, Norbert Steger, said that if he were Wolf, “I would take a sabbatical, travel around the world on the taxpayers’ dime and reinvent myself”, leading observers to fear an attempt to remove Wolf.
Wolf is highly respected in Austria and across the German-speaking world for his critical, incisive interview-style. He was named Austria’s Journalist of the Year 2018. However, he has also been a frequent target of attacks and smears from political figures, especially from the FPÖ, which has been part of the coalition government with the conservative ÖVP since 2017.
IPI Executive Board Chair Markus Spillmann, former editor-in-chief of Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, emphasized that IPI’s network of members across the globe stood with Wolf.
“The IPI global network expresses its solidarity with Armin Wolf, who exemplifies the type of critical journalism essential to the functioning and preservation of democratic societies: one that is unafraid to hold power to account”, Spillmann said. “Public broadcasters such as the ORF serve the interests of the public, not those of political parties or politicians. We urge Austria’s political leaders to condemn attempts to intimidate Armin Wolf, or any other critical journalist or media outlet, into silence.”