Austria

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 18th out of 180 (RSF, 2020b)
Population: 9m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 21% (1.93m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 456.17bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since 1 January, 1995 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: German (EUROPA, 2020)
Press council: Österreichischer Presserat (Austrian Press Council), established 2010 (Ríos et al., 2018: 226), existed in other forms prior to this, with code of ethics (see: Laitila, 1995).

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Austria as a “free” country with a total score of 93 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2019). This score is split 37/56 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report shows that the parliamentary system runs well across parties, with a history of a coalition government composed of the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), and the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP; Ibid.). Between 2017 and 2019, the government was composed of the centre-right ÖVP and the populist, extreme-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which aligns itself with xenophobic ideology (Ibid.). With regard to events in 2018, the 2019 report cites instances of threats to newsworkers and developments with anti-immigrant policy. The FPÖ instigated the drafting of guidelines at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), which would prevent journalists from both supporting and being critical of politicians in a professional capacity as well as in semi-professional capacities such as by making statements on social media (Ibid.). Measures were also put into place to prevent information critical of government from being shared with media outlets (Ibid.). The FPÖ, which had control of the Interior Ministry, ordered the raiding of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT) in February 2018, with a view to look for information on investigations into extreme-right groups that might be supporting the FPÖ (Ibid.). In November 2018, the government drafted legislation that would reduce social welfare benefits to people without German language skills (Ibid.). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, a “free media” is protected by the constitution and the Media Law of 1981; however, laws against libel and slander provide protection for politicians and officials (now with rising levels of litigation against newsworkers), media ownership is concentrated, and the 2019 coalition government tended to favour media that support it by allowing exclusive access to them (Ibid.).

Media landscape

Austria has seen a downturn in media freedom in recent years, due to the rise to power of the extreme-right party, the Freedom Party of Austria, FPÖ (Mcintosh, 2019). The rhetoric of the party attacked journalists, often branding those who report on their activities as “left-wing extremists” (RSF, 2020b). The FPÖ has also ordered the police department to restrict communication with centre-left and left-leaning newspapers (Ibid.), with a leaked document encouraging exposure of crimes committed by foreigners (Sparviero and Trappel, 2019). Recent elections show that the Austrian political context is still highly polarised (Oltermann, 2019). At the time of writing, Austria has a new coalition government between the People’s Party and the Green Party, the result of “Ibiza-gate”, where the leader of the FPÖ was filmed undercover promising government contracts in exchange for funding and election support (RSF, 2020a). The situation still positions independent journalism in antagonism to the government, with certain media outlets not being given access to direct information from the centre-right People’s Party (outlets not named; Ibid.), as well as public trust in the media declining (Sparviero and Trappel, 2019). Internet penetration is at 88% for Austria, and efforts are being made to reduce the influence of Big Tech (Ibid.). Media ownership is also an issue, with real estate tycoon René Benko owning significant shares in Austria’s leading and third-leading newspapers (Ibid.).

Newspapers and market

The Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 stated that Austria has the highest use of printed newspapers out of all the countries in its report, yet print media are still in decline like in other countries (Sparviero and Trappel, 2019). Various newspapers have responded to these challenges by creating different types of paywalls, such as “fees for removing advertising (Der Standard), combined digital-print subscriptions (Tiroler Tageszeitung), access to premium digital services, which also include special offers to students (Salzburger Nachrichten), and metered paywall (Die Tagespresse)” (Ibid.). The two leading newspapers, Heute (founded in 2004) and Oesterreich (founded in 2006), are behind the market leader, Kronen Zeitung, which holds 54% of the market with the 46% remaining for the 11 newspapers nationally (Trappel, 2017). Newspapers have been receiving state subsidies since 1970, with the recent figure of €9m per year being added to by an additional €200m to go towards media advertising of government initiatives on a mostly free basis, meaning that there are not controls in place to monitor how this funding is being used (Ibid.).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Austria (Newman et al., 2019: 70). The main public broadcaster, ORF, ranks at the top at 78% for tv, radio, and print, and 34% for online. In terms of the top four newspapers, the Kronen Zeitung (tabloid, popular) was at 25% for online, and 37% for print, Der Standard (broadsheet, quality) was at 13% for online and 11% for print, Heute (free, daily) was at 12% for online and 20% for print, and Kurier (Berliner, daily) was at 11% for online and 12% for print (Ibid.). The analysis from Reuters included a combination of domestic and international online news brands, such as GMX News and MSN News (Ibid.).

Public service media

The public broadcaster, ORF, and the newspaper Kronen Zeitung are the leading sources of news; the latter reaches 31% of the population (Trappel, 2017). Public service media are currently situated in a power battle between the right-wing and conservative parties (Austrian People’s party/ ÖVP and the Freedom Party of Austria/FPÖ), and as a result, trust in public service is diminishing, though it still retains first place as the most trusted news service (Sparviero and Trappel, 2019). However, the editorial independence of the public broadcaster, ORF, has also been criticised, due to the composition of its board which includes a number of politicians (Trappel, 2017). ORF, despite these challenges, hangs on to traditional commitments to independence, diversity, and quality (ORF, 2019). ORF has seen an increase in political pressure in recent years, with attacks in 2018 from the leadership of the extreme-right party, FPÖ, against an ORF journalist who was accused of “spreading lies and propaganda” (Freedom House, 2019). An FPÖ official sits on the ORF board, and continues to threaten ORF with reduced financial support if reporting is not, according to the individual, accurate (Ibid.). Social media guidelines were drafted, at the behest of the FPÖ, on how ORF journalists communicate about politicians on social media, a move that the RSF cited as “violating not only their freedom of expression but also their right to inform” (RSF, 2018).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Austrian news was low at 39%, with Austria ranking 25th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 71). The most trusted sources of news are ORF News (public broadcaster) and Die Presse (broadsheet, quality newspaper), and the least trusted are Heute (free, daily) and German online news brand GMX (Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news are public broadcaster ORF News (6.67), and the top five newspapers following these are Die Presse (6.53; broadsheet, quality), Der Standard (6.42; broadsheet, quality), Kurier (5.98; Berliner, daily), Kleine Zeitung (5.93; Berliner, regional), and Kronen Zeitung (5.31; tabloid, popular; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,026 Austrian participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016; factsheet for Austria). Here, 76% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 54% thought that the media were free from political or commercial pressure” (Ibid.). Likewise, 48% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 72%, reliability in television was at 77%, radio at 79%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 66%; trust in social media platforms was at 42% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 13%, with 51% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 12% of Austrian respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: GMX (17%), meinbezirk.at (with woche.at and bezirksrundschau.at; 11%), oe24.at (10%), and German platform tagesschau.de (8%; Newman et al., 2019: 71).

In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, there are two: Addendum and Dossier. Addendum was established in 2017 and describes itself as a news organisation that is “in addition to” mainstream journalism and considers itself to be a “research platform” that engages in investigative journalism on topics within politics, society, and the environment (Addendum, 2020). Dossier was established in 2012 and focuses on politics and business as “an independent, non-profit editorial office that operates and promotes investigative and data journalism” (Dossier, 2020).[1]

Current studies and context

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in Austria point back to 2017, showing that Austria has mixed rankings with “medium risk” to market plurality (43%), “medium risk” to social inclusiveness (46%) and political independence (46%), and “low risk” to basic protection (29%; Seethaler et al., 2018: 3-11). The report highlighted several topics in its conclusion regarding each category (Ibid.: 11). The first point was on access to information, with laws in place to apply for information. In the form of rights to information, however, other laws are in place that do not necessarily guarantee that these applications must be honoured (Ibid.). This has resulted in the Council of Europe recommending that the Austrian authorities articulate clearly when rights to information can be rejected, and the authors recommended that the Austrian authorities also revise current laws on rights to information (Ibid.). The authors also recommended that data on media ownership and transparency of financial data (organisation, advertising, funding) is more readily available to the public, and that more public funding should be allocated to “community media” (Ibid.). Although Austria has a high concentration of media ownership, the authors also cited a high concentration of “cross-media” ownership between private radio and television, which is facilitated by respective laws on both media types, as well as lack of information on the relationship between political and financial influences on different media, specifically, to what degree they are involved in the organisational structures of a given entity (Ibid.). As such, the authors stated that “self-regulatory measures (like editorial statutes) that stipulate editorial independence and foster internal plurality should therefore be obligatory for all media companies” (Ibid.). Also, the authors stated that “newsrooms lack structures and clearly communicated guidelines” when it concerns hate speech and journalists being attacked online, and called for these to be “systematically monitored” (Ibid.). Finally, the authors stated that authorities should “foster media literacy competence among young people”, covering social media usage and advertising, and the “role of journalists in news production” (Ibid.).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, Austria is ranked 18th (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a drop from 16th in 2019 (RSF, 2020b). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Austrian news was at 39%, with Austria ranking 25th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 71). Internet penetration in Austria is at 88% (Ibid.: 70).

Regulatory environment

There are two main regulatory bodies that were cited in the media pluralism report by Seethaler et al. (2018): the RTR and KommAustria. The Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) was established in 2001, and has two divisions, the Media and Telecommunications and the Postal Service Division, where it provides “operational support” for the Austrian Communications Authority, the Telekom-Control-Commission and the Post-Control-Commission (RTR, 2020a). KommAustria is an independent authority of “electronic audio media and electronic audiovisual [sic] media” (RTR, 2020b). KommAustria does the following: issues licences to television and radio stations, manages broadcasting frequencies, completes legal supervision of private broadcasters, administers federal subsidies for the press and journalism, monitors compliance with advertising regulations for ORF (public broadcaster) and private broadcasters, completes legal supervision of ORF, private online audio-visual media services, and certain aspects of the Austrian Act on Exclusive Television Rights (RTR, 2020b).

The press council

The press council regulates journalists and publisher associations through self-regulation (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020a). The press council is sponsored by the following organisations: the Association of Austrian Newspapers (VÖZ), the Austrian Trade Union Confederation (journalist union division), the Austrian Association of Magazines and Specialized Media (ÖZV), the Association of Austrian Regional Media (VRM), the Association of Editors in Chief, and the Concordia Press Club (PCC; Österreichischer Presserat, 2020d). Eleven “senates” handle the complaints procedure, where only the person affected can complain, but any member can report a violation following which the press council can instigate an independent investigation (Ibid.). Leaders and leader deputies of these “senates” are lawyers, the remaining members are journalists (Ibid.). The journalists act as ombudsmen who can mediate a dispute between the complainant and the defending party (Ibid.). The defending party does not have to be a member of the press council and it does not have a requirement to publish decisions reached, although the decisions are listed on the press council’s website (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020f). There are organisations, however, who recognise the press council and these are listed on the website, covering newspapers, regional newspapers, and magazines (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020e).[2]

Individual complainants enter into an agreement to not pursue legal action, and the press council does not hear cases for television, radio, or websites that do not reference a print medium (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020f).[3] The specific text here reads:

… the applicant undertakes, by signing a declaration, to recognize the Austrian Press Council as an arbitral tribunal in the matter at hand and thereby to refrain from referring to the ordinary courts. This means in particular that no claims for damages can be made in court due to the subject of the complaint. In return, the medium concerned also undertakes to submit to the press council as an arbitral tribunal and to recognize its decision. Media that are generally committed to the Press Council have submitted to our arbitration in advance. In the event of a successful complaint before the Austrian Press Council, only the publication of the decision in the medium concerned is intended as a sanction for the respondent. The publication is mandatory for the medium that has submitted to the arbitration of the press council. (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020b)

The press council cites its purpose with the “promotion of freedom of the press as well as the use of freedom of the press, committed to finding the truth and correctness, exercising self-control of the print media and news agencies” (Österreichischer Presserat, 2020c).[4]

Recent press council report/cases

The annual reports are only available in German.

Other bodies and codes of ethics

The European Federation of Journalists lists two organisations for Austria: the GPA-DJP and Younion (2020). The GPA-DJP is a union for “private employees, printing, journalism, paper” (GPA-DJP, 2020), and Younion is a general trade union (Yunion, 2020). A search for “ethics”, “codes”, “ethical codes” in German yielded nothing for either website at the time of writing.

Journalism culture

Ríos et al. (2018: 228) describe Austria as having the following characteristics: “a high degree of professionalization among journalists”, prioritising “the importance of public media in the media sector”, and “political power and media are strictly separated” (though this last point could be disputed based on the above). Journalism is an established profession in Austria, with journalism education, training and unions; however with increased economic challenges domestically, there has been an increase in freelance journalists or journalists moving to other employment sectors (Trappel, 2017).[5]

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Austria (n=774), Austrian participants had worked an average of 17.94 years as journalists, with 61.1% of respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (Lohmann and Seethaler, 2016). Journalists are trained, typically with a university degree (63.3%), or with a specialised degree in journalism or communication studies (54.6%; Ibid.). In general, Austrian journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were (in this order): “Report things as they are” (95.5%), “Provide analysis of current affairs” (89.6%), “Be a detached observer” (88.3%), “Tell stories about the world” (65.4%), “Provide the kind of news that attracts the largest audience” (60.7%), “Provide advice, orientation and direction for daily life” (63.3%), “Promote tolerance and cultural diversity” (65%), “Provide information people need to make political decisions” (63.1%), “Educate the audience” (53.6%; Ibid.: 2). With regards to professional ethics, almost all of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (94.3%), and less than half thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (40.7%), a small number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (9.3%), and a slightly higher number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (14.5%; Lohmann and Seethaler, 2016).

Other information

Governing framework
Federal Parliamentary Republic (EUROPA, 2020)
Democratic Republic (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2019)

Parliament
Österreichisches Parlament

Seats in Federal Assembly
183 (Österreichisches Parlament, 2020)

Last election
September 29, 2019 (BBC, 2019)

Seats held by women
39% (The World Bank, 2020)

Ruling party
People’s Party (Oltermann, 2019)

Populist party
Freiheitlichen Partei Österreichs – FPÖ (Freedom Party), established in 1956 (Mcintosh, 2019)

Origins of key minority groups
Mainly Easter European, former Yugoslavs, and Muslims minority groups (Minority Rights, 2019)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press
No results – only mentions “press affairs” twice (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2019)

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Key events
2015: Hungarian camera operator Petra László kicks a migrant man carrying a child who was fleeing from border police (Agence France-Presse, 2018).
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Austria.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Austria.

Bibliography

Addendum. 2020. Addendum – das, was fehlt. [Online]. Available from: https://www.addendum.org/uber-addendum/.
Agence France-Presse. 2018. Hungary court acquits ‘morally incorrect’ journalist who kicked refugees. October 31, 2018 at 00:29. The Guardian – Europe. [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/31/hungary-court-acquits-morally-incorrect-journalist-who-kicked-refugees.
BBC. 2019. Austria election: Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party in convincing win. September 30, 2019. BBC News – Europe. [Online]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49867930.
Comparative Constitutions Project. 2019. Austria 1920 (reinst. 1945, rev. 2013). [Online]. Available from: https://constituteproject.org/constitution/Austria_2013.pdf.
Dossier. 2020. FAQ. [Online]. Available from: https://www.dossier.at/faq/.
Eurobarometer. 2016. Media pluralism and democracy – Special Eurobarometer 452 – Report. Digital Single Market. [Online]. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/media-pluralism-and-democracy-special-eurobarometer-452.
EUROPA. 2020. EU member countries in brief – Austria. May 15, 2020. [Online]. Available from: https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries/member-countries/austria_en.
European Federation of Journalists. 2020. Austria. [Online]. Available from: https://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2014/01/08/austria/.
Freedom House. 2019. Austria: profile [2019]. Freedom in the World 2019. [Online]. Available from: https://freedomhouse.org/country/austria/freedom-world/2019.
GPA-DJP. 2020. Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, Druck, Journalismus, Papier. [Online]. Available from: https://www.gpa-djp.at/cms/A03/A03_0/home.
Hallin, D.C. and Mancini, P. 2004. Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laitila, T. 1995. Journalistic codes of ethics in Europe. European Journal of Communication. 10(4), pp.527-544. DOI: 10.1177/0267323195010004007.
Lohmann, M.-I. and Seethaler, J. 2016. Country Report: Journalists in Austria. Worlds of Journalism Study. [Online]. Available from: https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/30966/1/Country_report_Austria.pdf.
Mcintosh, J. 2019. Austria’s FPÖ Freedom Party: A turbulent history. May 18, 2019. DW – News. [Online]. Available from: https://www.dw.com/en/austrias-fp%C3%B6-freedom-party-a-turbulent-history/a-48789817.
Minority Rights. 2019. Austria – Minorities and indigenous peoples. [Online]. Available from: https://minorityrights.org/country/austria/.
Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Kalogeropoulos, A. and Nielsen, R.K. 2019. Reuters Institute Digital News Report. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. [Online]. Available from: https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/risj-review/digital-news-report-2019-out-now.
Oltermann, P. 2019. Austrian elections: Support for far-right collapses. September 29, 2019 at 21:13. The Guardian – Europe. [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/29/austrian-elections-exit-polls-collapse-far-right-support-sebastian-kurz-victory.
ORF. 2019. Leitbild und Werte [Mission statement and values]. der.ORF.at. [Online]. Available from: https://der.orf.at/unternehmen/leitbild-werte/leitbild/index.html.
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RSF. 2018. Austrian state broadcaster gags political tweets by its journalists. July 4, 2018. [Online]. Available from: https://rsf.org/en/news/austrian-state-broadcaster-gags-political-tweets-its-journalists.
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RTR. 2020b. KommAustria. [Online]. Available from: https://www.rtr.at/en/rtr/OrganeKommAustria.
Seethaler, J., Beaufort, M. and Dopona, V. 2018. Country Report: Austria. Monitoring media pluralism in Europe: Application of the media pluralism monitor 2017 in the European Union, FYROM, Serbia & Turkey. [Online]. Available from: https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/61130/2018_Austria_EN.pdf.
Sparviero, S. and Trappel, J. 2019. Austria. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism – Digital News Report 2019. [Online]. Available from: http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2019/austria-2019/.
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The World Bank. 2020. Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) – Austria. Data. [Online]. Available from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS?locations=AT.
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Worldometer. 2020. Austria Population (2020). May 21, 2020. [Online]. Available from: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/austria-population/.
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[1] Translations using Google Translate.
[2] Translations using Google Translate.
[3] “Für Radio, Fernsehen und Webseiten ohne Bezug zu einem Printmedium ist der Presserat nicht zuständig.”
[4] “Förderung der Pressefreiheit sowie eines der Wahrheitsfindung und Korrektheit verpflichteten Gebrauch derselben, Wahrnehmung der Selbstkontrolle der Printmedien sowie von Nachrichtenagenturen.”
[5] The Global Journalist in the 21st Century (Weaver and Willnat, 2012) does not have a chapter on Austria.

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