Austria: EFJ calls on MPs to reject bill ending print edition of Wiener Zeitung
A new draft law presented by Austrian Media Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP), introduced in Parliament on 30 March 2023, would permanently stop the printing of the world’s oldest daily newspaper, the Wiener Zeitung. The government’s plans to stop funding the state-owned newspaper as a printed daily is seen as a blow to media pluralism and quality information in Austria. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates the Austrian Press Union (GPA) in calling on Members of Parliament to reject the bill that is to be voted on next week.
The draft law “on the promotion of quality journalism” provides for the print edition of the Wiener Zeitung to be discontinued from July 2023 and moved online – still mentioning the possibility of ten print issues per year if the finances allow. The reason given for the discontinuation is the implementation of the EU directive “on the use of digital tools and procedures in company law”, which requires companies to take out public advertisements – a law used as a cover-up according to the critics.
The newspaper would suffer a massive loss of revenue as three-quarters of public funding is allocated to its print version. Initial information shared by the company revealed that 100 employees would be affected by these cuts. A comprehensive social plan has yet to be presented.
The funding model of the Wiener Zeitung, created in 1703, has been under discussion for several years and attempts made by current and previous governments to stop funding it have been strongly criticised.
“The draft law on the future of the Wiener Zeitung is worthless. Don’t bring it into parliament, throw it away,” demands Eike-Clemens Kullmann, chairman of the journalists’ union in the GPA union. The ideas in the law do not mean any chance of a secure future as an independent quality medium, but only bring the deathblow in installments for the oldest daily newspaper in the world that is still published.”
EFJ Director Renate Schroeder said: “The Wiener Zeitung, but also the Press Council and the public broadcaster ORF will be subject to financial pressure under this law. Some publishing houses have already announced plans to cut staff in the last few days. In a country that has been steadily losing ground in press freedom index in recent years, where media pluralism is almost non-existent and which is affected by high-profile advertising scandals and the conflation of politics and media, the EFJ believes that the Austrian government is on the wrong track. The media landscape in Austria is massively threatened by all these measures.”