Franz fails the fun test

If anyone is harbouring plans to laugh at the Austrian Chancellor, Franz Vranitzky, then here is a friendly piece of advice: think again. The Chancellor likes to be taken seriously and will go to considerable lengths to make sure his dignity is upheld. In particular, it is important to try not to think of him without any clothes on.

Hubertus Czernin, editor in chief of the top Austrian news magazine, Profil, encouraged this little fantasy among his readers recently when he used a picture of the Chancellor's head superimposed on a naked male body, on the front cover of the March issue. He was portrayed as chubby, hairy, and modest - he was covering "his" genitals with "his " hands. Now, according to Profil staff, Mr Czernin has been sacked and the Chancellor's office is taking legal action.

The caption next to the photo-montage read: "How [Vice-Chancellor] Wolfgang Schussel stripped shirt and trousers off Franz Vranitzky." This was a reference to the Social Democratic Chancellor's alleged concessions in coalition talks with Mr Schussel's conservative People's Party. The sacking triggered an outcry. "The editorial staff of Profil is most vehemently opposed to the firing of Hubertus Czernin," the journalists said in a statement.

Mr Czernin has apologised to Mr Vranitzky, but declined to make any public statement on the reports of his sacking.

Somewhat surprisingly, the far-right Freedom Party leader Jorg Haider said he backed Mr Czernin in the controversy. While he did not agree with the editor's political views, Mr Haider said he would do his utmost to ensure that freedom of expression was guaranteed.

They are also struggling with issues of censorship and press freedom in Poland. Nearly half of the staff of a leading newspaper, Zycie Warszawy, said they were resigning this week in protest over a change in policy forced by a new owner. The businessman Zbigniew Jakubas has announced plans to replace the editor-in-chief and to change the paper's profile to make it "objective, neutral and apolitical". According to the journalists, this is code for submissively pro-government.

Mr Jakubas is apparently upset by a perceived right-wing tendency in the paper. The journalists fear that Zycie will no longer deal with subjects that make the new rulers feel uncomfortable. The newspaper was attacked by former communists last year after publishing articles about the ruling coalition of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance and the Polish Peasants' Party.

"The change of profile of Zycie is part of the offensive of the ruling coalition against the Polish media," the journalists warned, adding that the appointment in mid-April of pro-Peasant's Party politician Ryszard Miazek as head of public television was part of a government attempt to gain wider control of the media. Mr Miazek has already announced that public television should serve the government.

Burt Reynolds' financial problems appear to be getting worse. In 1994 his lawyers asked a judge to relieve the actor of an $11,000 (pounds 7,300) a month alimony payment to the actress Loni Anderson, saying he was $11.8m in debt. Now foreclosure proceedings have been launched against Reynolds, who has allegedly failed to make monthly payments of $8,500 on his $2.25m Florida ranch since August last year. Reynolds has been asked to pay $1.49m, including interest since July, on a $1.5m loan he took out in May 1994.

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