Interviewed on ORF’s ‘Kulturmontag’, Jan Böhmermann’s harsh criticism of Austrian officials went down badly, drawing an ORF disclaimer and a citizen lawsuit.
With an exhibition opening in Graz, German comedian Jan Böhmermann was a natural choice for ORF host Christian Konrad’s ‘Kulturmontag’. So was the topic: A send up of Austria’s domestic politics through the lens of the two countries troubled history of the mid 20th century. It wasn’t exactly salonfähig (acceptable in polite society), and visuals of Deuschthland#ASNCHLUSS#Östereich (misspelling intended) were not permitted on the air. Still, the Kulturmontag interview provided enough controversy all by itself.
“I heard ORF will soon be renamed FPÖ TV”, jokes Böhmermann referring to the coalition proposal for a new broadcasting law targeting the ORF. He then took on Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), saying having a “32-year-old insurance agent with gelled hair as chancellor is abnormal. Are you even allowed to broadcast what I say?” Immediately after t he interview, TV presenter Clarissa Stadler did her best to calm the waters, saying “ORF distances itself from Böhmermann’s provocative and political statements.”
But the remarks rubbed many people the wrong way – so much so that Viennese Attorney Wolfgang List took legal measures. Pointing to the comedian’s portrayal of Austria as a “nation of 8 million dimwits” (quoting Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard), List hopes to file a defamation on grounds of degradation of the State of Austria. “The likes of Böhmermann do not deserve the podium,” List said, emphasizing that he List was unaffiliated with any political party, and was simply offended as a citizen.
Some of Austria’s prominent literary voices defended Böhmermann, including Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek, novelist Eva Menasse, and dramatist Gerhard Ruiss, all of whom signed a petition “distancing themselves from [the broadcaster’s] self-censorship”. According to the writers, ORF’s approach was “patronizing to their cultured audience.”
ORF executive producer Martin Traxl insisted there had been no external or internal pressure on presenter Clarissa Stadler to make the disclaimer, but an editorial decision to stay true to ORF’s reputation for objectivity.