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Austria: dominance of the tabloids

In Austria the dominance of politically motivated advertising and financially strong major publishers leaves little space for new independent media. The result is a dominance of the tabloids, which makes for little diversity on the media market.

Coffeehouse in Vienna.
(© picture-alliance/dpa)

The Austrian media landscape as we know it dates back to the immediate post-war period in which the occupying powers - especially the Americans - supported the founding of daily newspapers. This was the period that saw the rise of the journalist Hans Dichand, who was to have a decisive influence on Austrian media and politics.

In 1959 Dichand took over the Kronen Zeitung and subsequently turned it into Europe's most widely sold newspaper, at least 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 opinion. The polemics conducted in Kronen Zeitung were to benefit certain politicians, such as the right-wing populist Jörg Haider, whose anti-immigration policies met with great approval by the newspaper.

Even today politicians still seek the favour of Kronen Zeitung as well as that of Austria's more recently founded free newspapers Österreich and Heute. The sale of advertising space to parties or ministries is a financial mainstay for many Austrian media companies. This is made possible by the comparatively strong party financing in Austria, which in some cases is close to the limits of legality. In the wake of a political advertising scandal in 2013 the public prosecutor even investigated Chancellor Werner Faymann on suspicion of embezzlement.

A further particularity of the Austrian media landscape is the dominance of the major publishing houses, whose most important owners are not only German media concerns like the Funke-Gruppe (formerly Waz) and Gruner&Jahr, but also the powerful Raiffeisen Bank and private foundations closely connected with the Catholic Church.

This economically powerful environment makes it difficult for new independent media to establish themselves in the Austrian media landscape. New products, such as the monthly magazine Datum, have only managed to carve out small niches, despite their high-quality journalism.

The quality press is dominated by the left-wing-liberal Der Standard and the liberal-conservative Die Presse. Der Standard, in particular, has established a successful online presence in recent years. Yet neither of the two newspapers has anything like the influence of the tabloids

Press Freedom Index:

Reporters without Borders: 7th place (2015)
Freedom House: 30th place (2014)

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© Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung

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