Corruption in Austria: Why has ORF’s editor-in-chief resigned?

Austria’s graft scandal continues to dismantle political and media careers as ORF’s editor-in-chief Matthias Schrom steps down from the role. Here's why.

Corruption in Austria: Why has ORF's editor-in-chief resigned?
A demonstrator wearing a mask with the face of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and dressed as a prisoner in handcuffs is seen during a protest in front of the headquarters of the Austrian People's Party OeVP in Vienna on October 7, 2021, a day after Kurz was implicated in a media corruption scandal. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Matthias Schrom is no longer editor-in-chief of TV news at Austrian national broadcaster ORF after he resigned from the role on Wednesday (November 9th).

The move comes after Schrom was ordered to go on leave on Monday pending an investigation into claims he exchanged friendly notes with disgraced former far-right leader and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: What are Austria’s Social Democratic Party’s plans to ease citizenship rules?

Roland Weißmann, Director General at ORF, said: “I accept Matthias Schrom’s offer to resign his position as editor-in-chief and thus bear the personal consequences of the published chats. 

“Even though Matthias Schrom’s management of his office to date has been impeccable and ORF TV has been very successful with millions of people in Austria over the past four years, it is precisely the great trust in our reporting and the uncompromising credibility of our journalists that make a step like this seem inevitable.”

What happened and when?

In February 2019, Strache contacted Schrom by email to complain about reporting on ZIB 24 and make recommendations about personnel at the media organisation, according to Der Standard.

The complaint was reportedly about negative statements made against the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), of which Strache was a member at the time. Schrom then responded and described ORF1 as “more left-wing” than ORF2 before advising Strache on tips for intervening at the station.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

Schrom maintains that Strache’s requests were not met, either by adjustments to media content or in personnel appointments at ORF.

The latest revelations are related to the so-called “Ibizagate” corruption scandal that broke in 2019. It has since rocked Austrian politics, with leaked material revealing close links between top politicians, business people and the media.

The most high profile people involved in the scandal were Strache and former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Strache resigned as Vice Chancellor and was expelled from the FPÖ in 2019, and Kurz stepped down from politics in 2021.

For more on the Ibiza scandal, read this report by The Local.

Who else is involved in this latest scandal?

On Monday, Rainer Nowak, publisher and editor-in-chief of top newspaper Die Presse, also relinquished his day to day duties at the title

However, Nowak is implicated in chats with Thomas Schmid, former Secretary General for the Ministry of Finance. 

READ NEXT: EXPLAINED: Why is Austria so rich?

The Tiroler Tageszeitung reports that Nowak had aspirations to become the boss of ORF and appealed to Schmid in 2019 for support to make it happen. Nowak has since apologised for the communications and an investigation is

underway at the publication.

Schmid was a key ally of former Chancellor Kurz and is now a witness in the ongoing corruption hearings taking place against dozens of politicians and officials linked to Kurz’s time in office.

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‘Inhuman speech’: Austria’s far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Politicians in Austria criticised a far-right FPÖ leader who called for a suspension of citizenship granted to non-Europeans and for the tying of social benefits to proof of German skills.

'Inhuman speech': Austria's far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Austrian politicians criticised Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) member Maximilian Krauss in Vienna after he demanded proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits and asked for “no citizenship to be granted to people who come from outside Europe”.

Jörg Konrad, a member of the liberal party NEOS, denounced the “inhuman speech” and said that the sole criterion for receiving the benefits was “need”. “Serious politics and striving for solutions simply cannot be expected from the FPÖ,” Konrad said.

During a Vienna Parliament session on Wednesday, Krauss, chairman of the FPÖ, pointed out that more than two-thirds of the total 260,000 people “collecting” minimum benefits in Austria lived in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

According to him, the majority of them, almost 60 percent, did not have Austrian citizenship and were “making themselves comfortable at the taxpayers’ expense” in Vienna.

“The majority of minimum income recipients were social migrants unwilling to work”, Krauss said.

The FPÖ representative stated: “By now, we know that neither rocket scientists nor the urgently needed skilled workers came to our country in 2015”.

Krauss called for obligatory German language skills for tenants of municipal apartments or proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits, such as the minimum income. He also demanded that Austrian citizenship should not be granted to people who come from outside Europe and said that immigration or family reunifications must be slowed down or suspended.

What is the ‘minimum income’?

The issue was raised because, according to Krauss, migrants came to Austria and, in particular, to Vienna, looking to live off of the country’s social system and the city’s “Minimum Income” (Mindestsicherung).

According to the City of Vienna, the “minimum income” is financial support to secure the cost of living and the rent of Viennese with little or no income. Only Austrians, EU or EEA citizens, persons entitled to asylum or third-country nationals who are long-term residents can apply for this assistance. 

The applicant must also generally prove their willingness to work via registration with the labour office AMS. In addition, there are several other preconditions and required documents to apply for assistance.

The monthly payment amount varies according to each person’s conditions, but, in 2022, it’s not more than € 978 per person, with possible extra payouts of up to €117 per minor child and up to € 176 if the person has a disability.

A sign reading ‘control’ (‘Kontrolle’) stands on the road at the German-Austrian border near Lindau, southern Germany. (Photo by STEFAN PUCHNER / DPA / AFP)

‘Xenophobic instincts’

“The minimum income serves as a social safety net against poverty, especially for children, single parents and people who are particularly at risk of poverty”, said centre-left SPÖ member Kurt Wagner. 

He went further: “The FPÖ rarely contribute to solving a problem but are often the problem themselves because of their populism and xenophobic instincts”.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s Freedom Party a ‘far-right’ party?

Green politician Viktoria Spielmann said that the minimum income is enough to ensure the most basic needs: “Have you ever had to make do with such an amount? To put the amount into perspective, rents in Vienna averaged €500. So the minimum income was the least that would secure people’s existence.” 

For her, calling recipients “lazy” or unwilling to work is unfair.

So, how much do foreigners take up?

In 2021, 135,649 Viennese received the minimum income, according to Stadt Wien data. The number of non-Austrians receiving the payments was 77,746, accounting for about 57 percent of recipients. 

However, the City of Vienna mentioned that the Austrian capital has a higher proportion of foreign residents and cited a study that concluded that compared to Austrians, migrants from non-European countries had more difficulty getting jobs, even after years of living in Austria.

READ MORE: Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna’s economy

Additionally, foreigners also bring money into the Austrian economy. 

Figures from Austria’s Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer) showed that business owners in Vienna with a migration background generate € 8.3 billion in revenue and create around 45,500 jobs. 

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, said: “Companies with a migrant background not only enrich the diversity of the corporate landscape in Vienna, but they are also an economic factor.”