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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of February 26, 2018

Populists face push-back from public broadcaster
lawsuits, not satire

Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has called public broadcaster ORF “fake news.” ORF Director General Alexander Wrabetz decided to sue. He’s also suing Facebook for not quickly removing a nasty post shared by Herr Strache, who joined the government when his far (far) right Nationalist Party (FPO) became the coalition partner of the far right Austrian People’s Party (OVP).

More often than not European public broadcasters take these slings and arrows from right-wing politicians hoping to hold the barricades. In both Poland and Hungary public broadcasting has been over-run, full-blown political party mouth-pieces installed. Others, including the BBC, are constantly under threat of drowning by populism. (See more about public broadcasting here)

The current battle started with Herr Strache posting to Facebook a photo of Herr Wolf photoshopped from ORF promotional material captioned: "There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.” Herr Strache has accused ORF of “left-wing bias” and, on the campaign trail, called for ending Austria’s household license fee that partially funds the ORF. He was obliged, under Austrian law, to post on Facebook the text of a court ruling this past weekend for his allegations against ORF. The Vienna Regional Court ruled Herr Strache’s post libellous even with the word “satire” added. (See more about media in Austria here)

ORF TV news anchor Armin Wolf filed a lawsuit against Herr Strache. ORF, itself, followed with an injunctive relief lawsuit, effectively a cease and desist order, for “doctoring ORF promotional material,” reported Austrian news portal Klein Zeitung (February 27), quoting Dr. Wrabetz, ”because of the massively personal violations and truth-abusive attacks on the ORF. The posting was also directed against the entire ORF and its journalists, which is why the company will proceed by all legal means." Both are claiming damages.

Another journalist murdered, everybody’s shocked, everybody knows
"now take responsibility"

Grief peppered with outrage has come to Slovakia after police discovered the bodies of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, murdered by gunshot, this past Sunday. He had worked for online news portal for three years. He was 27 years old. Investigations are on-going, few conclusions drawn except that both had been dead for several days. A concerned family member asked police to investigate after not hearing from the couple.

"Today is one of the worst days in my life,” wrote Aktuality chief editor Peter Bárdy (February 26). “They murdered our colleague, a good man, a friend, a man who did his job to make us live better here.“ Mr. Kuciak investigated financial crimes and had been receiving threats. (See more about investigative reporting here)

Many news organizations drew parallels to the murder of Malta investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia last October as well as a toxic statements about journalism from right-wing politicians. "In the middle of the European Union, an investigative journalist was murdered. It is the second murder of a journalist in a short time,” wrote German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial (February 27). "Now Slovakia has to take responsibility with all its determination. In a country where both the head of the government and one of the ministers scornfully spoke about investigative journalists, it is unfortunately not the case.” (See more about press/media freedom here)

Also blunt was a statement from Ringier Axel Springer Media, publisher of Aktuality. The company and its parent organizations pledged to pursue everything "in our power to support law enforcement authorities in identifying perpetrators,” quoted by Dennik N (February 27). "If this crime was an attempt to discourage an independent publisher such as Ringier Axel Springer from reporting violations of the law, we will use this as an opportunity to further strengthen our journalistic responsibility.” Ringier Axel Springer executives met with Prime Minister Robert Fico and Interior Minister Robert Kalinak on Monday (February 26). PM Fico earlier offered €1 million for information leading to arrests. (See more about media in Slovakia here)

“As every journalist knows, the most dangerous part of the job always arrives just before publication, when the subject of your exposé knows you are working on him and has a brief window of time to avoid being accused by name,” wrote Canadian journalist Tom Nicholson, who collaborated with Jan Kuciak on organized crime investigations, in Politico (February 27). “In any case, the (Slovak) secret service already has the gangsters’ names; both Jan and I were operating from leaked intelligence documents.”

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