In 1867 the right of free expression in speech and writing was legally defined by Emperor Franz Josef I in Austria. Little did he know how sloppy we will be assuming this right today.
In my home country it is almost completely safe to work as a journalist. We are in the lucky position to be free to write whatever we want without being troubled by anybody. Instead of using this state of luxury to dig deeper into stories or coming up with some critique we are just copy-pasting shorthand notes from big news agencies. Investigative journalism hardly exists in daily coverage. It became something extraordinary that is left to a very small journalistic elite we are slowly getting bored with. At the moment we are drowning our readers in a vast amount of uninspiring and not very brave articles.
The reasons are easy to guess. On one hand , investigative journalism is very time-consuming and therefore expensive. Apart from that I‘m also sad to say we simply became lazy. Even among Austria‘s most talented journalistic writers, hardly anyone seems too eager to leave his desk to go into the field for his readers. The average Austrian journalist has the drive of a dying sloth. Big stories are made inside their offices. They decide where the stories should go before they have made one single phone call and then search for quotes to justify their theory. They became office employees. Their ideals have been given up long ago, their passion faded.
It got to the point that Reporters Without Borders Austria felt called upon to launch their own press freedom magazine claiming there isn‘t enough room for independent reporting in the existing media scene. It allegedly addresses this under-representation of just and spicy investigative journalism. Too good to be true? When one takes a closer look at who is contributing to that magazine you can read the names of the central characters in Austrian journalism- the same people who are apparently not capable to boost investigative reporting in their own newspapers. They are all welcomed guests in media discussions where some of them spend more time on talking about content than actually creating it.
I wonder whom are we trying to fool here. What is the use of all the press freedom in the world if it‘s being buried in oblivion? What is the point of having a super sexy “magazine of free information“ as long as we are not willing to identify the root of the problem? A lack of awareness on what the role of quality journalism is in a democracy is not a space problem. It is about attitude. We have reached a point where we take freedom for granted and lost interest in using our rights to make a change.
In 2011 Austria was number 5 on the worldwide ranking of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The meaning of this 5th place loses a bit of relevance every day we sit in our offices in self-laudation and pure arrogance. We don‘t deserve this 5th place as long as we disparage our own function in a democratic society and don‘t dare to be the journalists we could be.
I‘ve been a full-time journalist for less than a year now. I imagine the same colleagues who are mocking my passion today with their patronizing smile had dreams too some hundred years ago. Today they spit out the word “enthusiasm“ as if it was a disease I have to overcome if I want to be a serious journalist. They are trying to tell me how to fit in. Good luck to them. I am difficult to train.
The article was originally written in English.
Illustration: Brian Downs
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