Austria: dominance of the tabloids

The predominance of politically motivated advertising and financially strong publishing houses leaves little space for independent new media in Austria. The resulting dominance of the tabloids hinders diversity on the media market.

Coffeehouse in Vienna (© picture-alliance/dpa
Coffeehouse in Vienna (© picture-alliance/dpa
The Austrian media landscape as we know it was shaped by developments in the period immediately after the end of World War II. It was during this time that journalist Hans Dichand, who was to have a decisive influence on Austrian media and politics, rose to prominence.

In 1959 Dichand took over the Kronen Zeitung and turned it into Europe's most widely read newspaper relative to the size of the population. Its editors were well aware of their influence, and the tabloid was regarded as an important shaper of public opinion. Certain politicians benefitted from the polemics in Kronen Zeitung, including the right-wing populist Jörg Haider, whose anti-immigration policies the newspaper strongly supported.

Even today politicians try to curry favour with Kronen Zeitung, as well as with Austria's more recently founded free newspapers Österreich and Heute. Selling advertising space to political parties and ministries is a key source of income for many Austrian media companies.
In some cases the ties between politics and media companies go beyond the limits of legality. In 2013 an advertising scandal prompted prosecutors to investigate then Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann on charges of breach of trust.

Another particularity of the Austrian media landscape is the dominance of large publishing groups. The powerful Raiffeisen Bank and various private foundations with close ties to the Catholic Church are among the major shareholders in these companies.

This financially powerful environment makes it difficult for new independent media to gain a foothold in Austria's media landscape. Newer products like the monthly magazine Datum have managed to carve out only small niches for themselves in recent years, despite offering high-quality journalism.

But even the large publishing companies have been hit hard by the decline of the advertising market. Publishing group News has had to a fifth of its employees go, and Styria Media Group has discontinued both the print and online versions of its business daily Wirtschaftsblatt.

Paywalls are still uncommon among Austrian media. The only websites that charge for their online content are Wiener Stadtzeitung, Falter and NZZ.at.

The left-liberal daily Der Standard and the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse dominate the quality newspaper segment. Der Standard in particular has attracted new readers with its website in recent years. However, neither of the two can even begin to compete with the tabloids in terms of influence on public opinion.

The public broadcaster ORF continues to dominate the television market. ORF, which operates four TV channels, reached ten times as many viewers in 2015 as the most popular private channel, Puls 4, which is owned by the ProSiebenSat.1 Media company. ORF is subject to political influence because the parties, via the broadcaster's board of trustees, are involved in the selection of its chairman. This influence, however, is not apparent in ORF's journalistic content.

Press Freedom Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 11th place (2017)
Freedom House: 33rd place (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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