It has to be emphasised that the foundations of the democratic media system are intact and robust:
- Freedom of expression is well protected.
- Access to journalism is free and journalistic work is legally protected in many ways.
- Media authorities work independently.
- The media market has largely recovered from the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis (although the print sector remains battered for several reasons).
- During election times, the public service broadcaster ORF does a reasonably good job of representing the parliamentary parties.
- The ORF also feels responsible for providing access to media for people with disabilities.
- Equally important, there is a rich and varied supply of regional and local media services, including a lively community media sector.
Risks to media pluralism in Austria are primarily due to
- horizontal and cross-media concentration;
- threats to the independence of PSM governance and funding, which in contrast to the almost European-wide concentration of the media markets, are only to be observed in a few countries;
- the failure of countless governments to pass a Freedom of Information Act;
- a lack of sufficient reflection on the changes in the media landscape in the competition law;
- the outflow of advertising revenues to a few globally operating online platforms,
- endangered editorial autonomy;
- some shortcomings in the provisions on transparency of media ownership (information on the ultimate ownership structures of media companies is not generally available);
- limited access to media for women and minorities;
- spread of disinformation;
- and a missing policy (and missing resources) for promoting media literacy.
Moreover, there are two particularly alarming developments. First, the growing number of physical attacks and online threats against journalists, in recent times, particularly in the context of demonstrations organized by COVID-19 denialists, opponents of vaccination, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and other right-wing groups, and the missing of a comprehensive policy framework to ensure physical and digital safety of media professionals.
Second, the extraordinarily high amount of state advertising expenditures (about five times the amount of regular media subsidies!) and the lack of transparency in the allocation criteria. The details of the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office's corruption investigations, which have become public and forced Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to resign in October 2021, have exposed unhealthy ties between some politicians, polling companies, and media organisations. According to a representative survey conducted by the Gallup Institute, these incidents have badly shaken trust in the media and underscored the urgency of reforming the system of media subsidies which should be exclusively dedicated to supporting the media in performing their democratic functions.
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