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Austria – (C6) Practice of access to information

Score in short:

Formally, access to information for journalists in Austria is unlimited even though some restrictions are present.

Score in detail:

In Austria the european Convention on Human Rights has constitutional status, therefore freedom of information is granted to all citizens. Nevertheless, the Austrian Constitution (§ 20) also provides for discretion of all official institutions and federal or state-related authorities unless law declares special rights and conditions on access. Therefore some information is subject to official secrecy. However, specific federal and regional laws regulate that requests to official institutions and authorities must be answered to provide transparency in state administration (Auskunftspflichtgesetze). Still, the president of the journalists’ union was critical, stating that – due to the lack of legislative guarantees obliging public representatives to inform journalists combined with official secrecy status – access to information could be rather difficult.

The Media Act limits the publication of information in case of violation of privacy (§§6-7) or for crimes when children or adolescents are involved (§ 8). furthermore, any audiovisual recording and broadcasting during legal trials is prohibited. In the past few years, regular discussions on information rights versus the right to privacy have occurred, in particular during important law suits attracting a great deal of news coverage. Recently a tightening of the Penal Code relating to higher penalties for news media in case of violation of privacy or protection of identity has been planned. Some of our respondents therefore expected negative effects on investigative journalistic research and rather preferred forms of self-regulation to tighter legal restrictions.

In particular, interviewees from regional news media reported on the negative effects caused by critical news coverage. Nevertheless, they also stated that this problem could easily be evaded, as a wide variety of alternative information sources were available and therefore it has little effect on their reporting.