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Journalists from independent and minority radio stations in Austria have come to Brussels to draw attention to the government cutbacks which threaten their media with closure. The journalists, working for minority broadcasters in Slovene, Hungarian, Croatian and a range of other languages, plan to raise awareness among MEPs about the crisis facing their media outlets.
In July the Austrian government announced that government support for independent and minority media was to be cut by a third this year and would be phased out entirely in 2001. 'It is clear that the radio stations need far more money than the republic can pay,' a spokesman for the State Secretary for Media, Franz Morak, said at the time. Raising awareness of the situation at European level is the aim of the journalists' visit.
'The situation in Austria is not normal,' said Helmut Peissl of the independent Radio Agora in Carinthia, which broadcasts in Slovene and German. 'But even some of our own Austrian deputies are not aware of what is happening'. 'This can not be solved at a regional or national level,' Peissl added. 'Our hope is that Europe will be an "eye" and will monitor the situation because this is one of its roles.' The Austrian government has already suggested that the stations threatened with closure should be taken over in future by the state broadcaster, ORF.
However, staff at the stations fear that such a proposal could reduce the amount of minority programming and threaten media diversity in general. 'The government has a lot of influence on editorial policy at ORF,' said Thomas Thurner of Radio Orange in Vienna. 'This is not acceptable.' Radio Orange is a community station which broadcasts programmes in thirteen different languages, those of both national minorities and of immigrant communities. 'There has been a unanimous declaration by journalists at ORF complaining about government attempts to exercise more influence over it,' said Alexander Baratsits of Radio FRO in Linz, another public access station broadcasting programmes in eleven languages. 'This is a bad signal about the future of media diversity in Austria and it's a very grave situation,' Baratsits added. Helmut Peissl agrees: 'Journalistic work and freedom of expression is really in danger in Austria at the moment,' he said.
One of the more innovative stations is MORA/Antenne 4, a quadrilingual broadcaster based in the eastern Austrian province of Burgenland. Before the cutbacks were introduced, the station was broadcasting programmes in three of the province's minority languages - Hungarian, Romany and Croatian - as well as in German. 'If we are to close down it would mean that all our work in raising the consciousness of people in Burgenland will be wasted,' said Gesa Buzanich of MORA/Antenne 4. 'It is a project which brings all the minorities of Burgenland together so it was very innovative and very new.' The journalists say that another of the purposes of their visit to Brussels is to seek possibilities of European funding which would allow their stations to continue broadcasting independently.