Are all politicians equally dishonest

Making politicians happy is not our job

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At the end of March, I conducted an interview that triggered quite astonishing reactions: a balance sheet discussion on the farewell of the Lower Austrian governor. And I also asked him about his private foundation, which, as is well known, no longer exists.

Mr. Pröll called my questions about it "stupidity", accused me of "lying" and threatened literally: "That will come to the boss anyway." I found all of this very astonishing, since until today no one would have said that even a half-sentence of my questions was incorrect. But well, you can lose your composure.

But a few days later, Mr. Pröll gave another interview for news. There he spoke of alleged "directed journalism" on the ORF, which was a "danger to democracy", announced that the ORF had to "look after things" and thought out loud about an ORF referendum.

Now you could also dismiss that as an insulted reaction from a politician in the exit. But a few weeks later, Vice Chancellor Mitterlehner also spoke of a "referendum for an objective ORF". That Vice Chancellor who had recently complained in an - surprisingly little noticed - Ö1 interview that the media reported not only about "what politics is doing, but about the topics that interest the media". Mr. Mitterlehner also complained about the interviews in ZiB 2: There must always be "winners and defeats" in them.

That could also have been an individual opinion. But it wasn't like in profile was to read: "It is unreasonable for a public service broadcaster if the TV studio acts like an interrogation room or a dock," said a high-ranking ORF manager. This was remarkable because the colleague is not responsible for television, but for the ORF's online presence, but is also - completely undisputed by him - the most prominent liaison of the FPÖ in the ORF leadership. That FPÖ that attacks the ORF very often and openly and has recently called for a referendum on license fees.

The representative nominated by the FPÖ to the foundation council already announced at the last ORF election that there would be a new management team within a year and that he was already writing a new broadcasting law. Two weeks ago he announced that he now had two versions in the drawer: "A hotter and a less hot one."

"Got out of hand"

But the SPÖ is not idle either. At the same meeting of the ORF Foundation Council, the new chairman of the so-called SPÖ Circle of Friends, the Social Democratic parliamentary group, criticized the television information as "got out of hand". Incidentally, he was only able to say that there because another board of trustees had previously resigned in a very unusual way. As such, ORF board members are irremovable. But a member of the SPÖ circle of friends received a call in May from the office of the SPÖ media minister: he should please concentrate on his main job in a federal museum. A seat on the foundation council became vacant overnight, and the former SPÖ communications chief, who now leads the red "Circle of Friends" as parliamentary group leader, was able to move up.

Pröll's office manager

There was also a new addition to the black "Circle of Friends". The state of Lower Austria filled its ORF representative with a long-time office manager from Erwin Pröll.

What does it all mean?

I see no other explanation than the attempt by politicians to regain more influence on the ORF. A company that many politicians believe somehow belongs to politics. And usually more influence on the ORF means one thing above all: more influence on the ORF information.

Practically all information programs on television have significantly increased their audiences in recent years, and the apparent independence of the reporting has been widely praised outside and within the ORF. That doesn't mean we don't make mistakes. With around 150 information programs a week, this is - unfortunately - inevitable. Even so, we have to try harder every day.

It is noticeable, however, that all parties complain equally about the TV information: It is "too negative" for the SPÖ, a "red radio" for the ÖVP, the FPÖ is indignant about an alleged "left list", and Greens and Neos are complaining , they would appear far too little.

Of course, if everyone complains, it could mean that everyone is right and that we're just doing badly. That wouldn't explain why our audience is growing all the time, though. It could also mean that we simply do what our job as public service journalists is: to report on all parties and politicians in an equally critical and distanced manner.

Interesting reproach

The central reproach from politics has been for several months: The television information would do "what it wants". Which is a really interesting charge. That is exactly how you could define independent journalism. Who else should decide what and how the ORF reports, other than the responsible editorial offices? The parties? The board of trustees sent by the federal government, state governments and parliamentary parties?

A few weeks ago, the TV information was directly subordinated to the General Director. And immediately after the National Council election, it is to be rebuilt even further. There should also be "channel managers" on television, broadcasters responsible for ORF 1 and ORF 2, similar to our radio stations. There is basically nothing to be said against this, it has been working perfectly on the radio for a long time.

However, two aspects stand out: Long before each advertisement, the SPÖ and ÖVP's "circle of friends" announced who would get this important position. At ORF 2, the broadcaster on which all of the major information formats run, it is - in his own words - a "staunch social democrat" who has publicly stated that it cannot be "that we start fooling around politicians early in the morning and then into a political one late at night End interrogation ". Incidentally, the accusation recently made by a public council from the SPÖ “Circle of Friends” fits this well: it locates “destructive journalism” on ORF.

Television should not only have a channel manager, but also a separate information department for each channel. It's different on the radio. There - despite the channel bosses - an information editorial team supplies all radio stations. On television, ORF 1 and ORF 2 will in future have their own separate editorial offices with their own new editors-in-chief. So far, I have not exactly understood what this conversion - which is quite time-consuming in savings times - is needed. But the fact that this reorganization is such a big concern for many politicians makes a trained ORF person somewhat suspicious.

Two criteria

Of course, a large company like ORF has to constantly review, question and adapt its products and structures. As a journalist in public service broadcasting, however, I would like the decisive criteria for every new structure and replacement to be:

· Can we use it to make an even more interesting, smarter, and more creative program?

· And are we making sure that the editorial staff at ORF remain as uninfluenced and independent as possible from the politicians we report on on a daily basis?

Politicians and parties do not have to be satisfied with ORF - our audience has to be satisfied: those people who finance our salaries, our studios and our cameras with their fees and for whom we make our programs on television, radio and online. Public broadcasting was invented for this purpose.

The BBC has a nice old motto: We want to support our audience to participate more qualified in the democratic discourse.

THAT is our job - not to make politicians happy. It doesn't matter whether you have a private foundation or not. (Armin Wolf, June 21, 2017)

Armin Wolf (Born 1966) is "ZiB 2" presenter and deputy editor-in-chief of ORF television information. On Wednesday evening he received the Axel Corti Prize in Vienna.

On the subject

Wolf on interviews: "I don't ask questions because I'm bored" - ZiB 2 "presenter defends his style:" If I don't get an answer, I'll try again "

"Armin Wolf not destructive" - ​​"Problem" tweets - In front of the ORF Board of Trustees: Heinz Lederer finds interviews "tough but fair", criticizes the mixing of infotainment and information

ORF boss: "Wolf no brutal mimosa", Jeannée "inhuman" - Wrabetz: Anchor "does not engage in destructive journalism" - warns of "referendums against the independence of ORF"

Media scientist Vitouch sees Armin Wolf as a "brutal mimosa" - Wolf vs. Vitouch: "I find the document-free accusation of destructive journalism infamous"

ORF boss Wrabetz: "Armin Wolf is not questioned" - Wrabetz: "It would be absurd to change something in his position" - Prantner's statements about "interrogations" are "his opinion"

ORF: Halali on interviewer - At a time when journalists are vilified and persecuted elsewhere, it would be all the more important that the ORF leadership confidently stands behind its critical journalists

ORF manager supported by FPÖ speaks of "interrogation" in the ORF studio - Prantner: "TV studio acts like an interrogation room or dock" - the channel manager expects the announcement in the next few days