Austria Government and Media
Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy
Head of State: Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen (he is mainly a figurehead but he has the power to appoint and dismiss governments.)
Head of Government: Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (Chancellor is the equivalent of Prime Minister)
Political Party: Austrian People’s Party (OeVP)
Political Position: Center-Right Populist
World Press Freedom Rank: Austria 18/180
According to Reporters without Borders “Press forces far-right out of government” referring to a scandal involving Heinz-Christian Strache, the country’s former vice-chancellor and leader of the populist far-right Freedom Party of Austria(FPÖ). The report states “offering up state contracts in exchange for election help from a woman he believed was the niece of a Russian oligarch”, brought down the right/far-right ruling coalition led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, which resulted in a new coalition with the left-leaning Green Party. The report warns that this has not affected tense relations between Kurz’s conservative party and the media, which is another reason for the lower press freedom ranking as particular media outlets are still denied certain information that is held by the government. Unlike many countries in Europe, Austria does not have a Freedom of Information system in place. In Austria, media ownership is concentrated in a few hands. For example, in several regions, the most important daily newspaper also owns the only privately-owned local radio station. This power concentration may create a media oligopoly that can pose a threat to pluralism and lead to pro-corporate bias.
Government Influence on Media: Although The constitution and the Media Law of 1981 guarantee press freedom in Austria, libel and slander/defamation law remain a criminal offense, in addition to a lack of freedom of information (FOI) law.
In Austria, the private broadcasting sector was established only in 2001, therefore The public service broadcaster ORF (operates four national television and twelve radio channels), holds a de facto monopoly and according to Thomson Reuters “The ORF has enough economic power to dictate contractual terms and conditions onto parties doing business with it.” ORF is funded by the public through license fee revenue and advertising. When it comes to ORF Board members, 24 of the board’s 35 members are directly appointed by Austria’s federal and state governments and political parties. An additional six are indirectly appointed by the Federal Chancellor. ORF is not profit-oriented, it is a foundation under public law and subject to the ORF Act. For more on ORF act please read here. On the other hand, the publishing industry is dominated by the newspaper Kronenzeitung, “reaching 31 percent of the Austrian population.” Further, the role of the state is very important in Austria since the Government provides direct subsidies for print media as per the Press Subsidies Act of 2004. Recently, due to the pandemic, the Austrian Federal Government enacted a Covid-19 Act that provides special funding to media which was criticized because one of the main beneficiaries was Kronenzeitung which is known as a Kurz-friendly tabloid newspaper that received €2.72 million whereas all other media outlets received smaller sums compared to Kurz friendly media. For example, the liberal daily Der Standard received €450,000 special funding, the conservative Die Presse received €450,000, the political magazine Profil received €104,000, and the leftist investigative weekly Der Falter €127,000. Special funds were also granted to private commercial radio and television stations and non-commercial private broadcasters. Media also is reliant on government through political advertising.
In conclusion, in Austria, the Government plays a significant role over the media outlets as it provides direct subsidies to the press which has created public criticism due to unbalanced distribution of state funds. Another issue is the media monopoly of public broadcasting service ORF and its governance, which is primarily appointed by the government. Furthermore, the concentrated ownership of the media also creates a lack of plurality which has the potential to undermine democracy.
|Top 5 Austria Media Sources by Web Rank|