Racism on ORF

Austrian Journalist Condemned for Remarks about Obama

News | Kata Cserveny, Dardis McNamee | December 2008 / January 2009

Emmerich speaking at the US Embassy (Photo: E. Krügl)

Veteran Austrian television personality Klaus Emmerich has triggered a storm of criticism for his racist comments about U.S. president-elect Barack Obama. Emmerich, 80, had a long career in journalism that spanned 61 years including a stint as foreign correspondent in Washington D.C. for ORF, Austria’s public television station, between 1969 and 1992. He has also reported for the conservative Austrian daily newspaper, Die Presse, as well as German TV and newspapers. He has been a respected figure in Austrian television news, and something of a grey eminence as a commentator on U.S.-Austrian relations.

Or, at least, he was. Now, he may be remembered instead for a series of unabashedly racist remarks following the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency.

"I wouldn’t want the Western world to be directed by a black man," he said on the talk show ‘Club 2’ on ORF 2 on Oct. 5. "If you say that is a racist remark, that’s right, without a doubt!"

He apparently did not consider this exceptional: Americans are "racists; they are now, and always have been," Emmerich insisted, "and it must be going very badly for them that they so imposingly [...] send a black man, and a black, very good-looking woman, into the White House." He later compared it to electing a Turkish chancellor in Austria.

Given a chance to retract his remarks, Emmerich declined, according to Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post.  In a later interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, he denounced Obama’s election as "an alarming circumstance," since, in his view, "blacks are not politically civilized enough yet in their development" to take on the role of President. He also called Obama dangerous and implicitly compared him to Hitler, citing his "rhetorical brilliance" and his ability to "appeal charismatically to people."

The Austrian broadcaster, ORF, distanced itself from Emmerich’s views, emphasizing the station’s opposition to any form of discrimination.

"It was a live discussion, therefore the editorial department’s opportunities for intervention were limited," explained Rainer Scheuer, Head of ORF’s press office, to The Vienna Review.

"We have never had any comments from Mr. Emmerich, which would indicate he holds such opinions," said Pius Strobl, head of communications for ORF to the German news portal Spiegel Online.  Strobl added that moderator Andreas Pfeifer, the anchor man who was moderating the roundtable discussion, had "reacted immediately and correctly" by denying Emmerich any further opportunity to speak. The incident also caused uproar among members of the Green Party, who insisted on severe consequences for Emmerich from the Austrian broadcaster.

"ORF’s initial and immediate decision to distance themselves from these comments was a legitimate reaction. However, it is not enough," said Dieter Brosz, media spokesperson for the Austrian Green Party, demanding that Emmerich be off the list for any future programs.

"ORF should not provide a platform for racist remarks, and any such comments need to be inhibited," Brosz said.

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