Introduction

Austria is situated in the centre of Europe and is part of the German language area, with some small linguistic minorities (mainly Hungarian, Slovenian and Croatian) in the south and east of the country. Austria borders with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Austria’s only metropolis is Vienna, with some 2 million people living in and around the capital. Large parts of central and western Austria are topographically characterised by mountains. Although there is some medium-sized industry around Vienna and the provincial towns of Linz and Graz, Austria’s general economy is based on services.

The media landscape is characterized by two dominating groups: the public service broadcaster ORF on the one hand, being the uncontested market leader in television, radio and online; and the by far largest newspaper Kronenzeitung, reaching 31 percent of the Austrian population, on the other hand. Since fall 2016, the online edition Krone.at of this boulevard-style paid newspaper ranks second in the Austrian online ranking. Also, the wife of publisher and editor-in-chief of the Kronenzeitung is running the free-sheet Heute, successful in Austria, which ambitiously aspires to become the online leader in the years ahead.

Outside the capital Vienna, media ownership concentration has wiped out competition almost entirely in the daily newspaper business. While two provinces do not have any regional newspaper in addition to the regional edition of Kronenzeitung, the remaining provinces are controlled by just one publisher.

With regard to political affiliation, Austrian media are no longer the voice of any political party. Even Kronenzeitung and Heute are not clearly affiliated to any party. They rather sympathize with populist ideas and movements wherever they occur. Until the recent past, the owners had family ties with the (former) prime minister, but since his resignation in May 2016, these rather personal links are gone.

Journalism as a profession is well organized in Austria, with well-functioning structures for professional representation, journalism training and education. However, the enduring economic crisis of incumbent media companies has affected journalists as well, with few new jobs created, and numerous journalists joining public relation departments in the private sector or becoming self-employed freelancers.

The role of the state is rather important in the Austrian media landscape. Since the 1970s there is a legally implemented scheme of direct press subsidy for daily and weekly newspapers, currently distributing some €9m annually. In addition to this modest amount, however, another €200m are allocated every year by public institutions to media advertising. This money is spent by ministries, municipalities and state-run corporations for information or merely image campaigns, and is not controlled or directed in any way. As media companies profit unevenly, this has created public criticism of compromising editorial independence. Furthermore, the board of the public service broadcaster ORF is composed for more than one half of politically appointed members. Thereby, national and regional governments, political parties and other powerful institutions in the Austrian society still have a strong say in the governance of the ORF.

There is little counter-balance to incumbent media companies by civil society initiatives. Third-sector media exist both in analogue (television, radio, press) and internet-based digital formats (blogs, social media), but their influence on public deliberation is limited.