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Democracy in Crisis: How Austria’s Democracy Index Reveals Alarming Trends

In recent years, democracy in Austria seemed to be on a good path. But the current Democracy Index raises eyebrows: The state of the democratic infrastructure is stagnating, and in some areas, there has even been regression. There is particular cause for concern in the areas of fundamental rights and the media landscape. But why is that and what can be done to counteract it?

According to Luise Wernisch-Liebich of the Democracy Index Association, liberal democracy is only strong if it has a diverse and critical media landscape and consistently enforces fundamental rights. However, it is precisely in these areas that Austria shows weaknesses. The index score for the “media” pillar fell by 7.1 percentage points to 60.2 percent last year. In addition, there have been attempts by politicians to discredit serious journalism, as well as legal and physical attacks on journalists.

The restructuring of the Wiener Zeitung, once the oldest daily newspaper in the world, is an example of the regression in the independence of the media. The newly established media company is under direct control of the Chancellor’s Office and has considerable financial resources and room to maneuver, but is subject to little accountability or oversight. At the same time, media diversity in Austria is severely threatened by financial losses, and state subsidies and advertisements are not linked to media ethics criteria.

The “Sovereign” pillar deteriorated by 1.9 percentage points, and improvements are also urgently needed in the area of fundamental rights. The rights of people with disabilities, the safety of women, protection against discrimination, the right to asylum, as well as environmental protection and minimum social standards must be strengthened.

Demands of the NGOs

The NGOs behind the Democracy Index 2023 call for the strengthening of independent journalism and fundamental rights. This includes the comprehensive protection of the work and safety of journalists, the promotion of respect and awareness for the role of the media by politicians, the safeguarding of the independence of the ORF, and an end to the arbitrary practice of awarding public advertisements.

In the area of fundamental rights, NGOs call for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, measures to increase the safety of women, protection against discrimination, strengthening climate protection in the constitution, raising minimum social standards and strengthening the rights of asylum seekers.

The Democracy Index 2023 clearly shows that there is much to be done to strengthen democracy in Austria and improve its infrastructure. Fundamental rights and the media landscape are under threat, and urgent measures are needed to counter these developments. The NGOs’ demands provide a clear roadmap for how this can be achieved. It is now up to politicians to comply with these demands and thus strengthen democracy in Austria. Because as the Democracy Index shows, it is high time to act.

Source : Vindobona

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