The chat logs have shown that Austria needs independent, objective and well-founded quality journalism more than ever – and no less in a country with only 13 daily newspapers. But Media Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) and the Green media spokeswoman Eva Blimlinger have shown no interest in talks with the editors in recent months or have claimed untruths about the newspaper owned by the Republic; starting with the belittling of the number of readers to an alleged refusal to reform the editors.

Raab and Blimlinger systematically badmouth the Wiener Zeitung. “Print is dead,” claims the green media spokeswoman. But Blimlinger is fundamentally wrong. We are in a phase of transition. In addition to the online presence, every daily newspaper in Austria continues to appear in a printed version – also out of tangible economic interest. Even German media such as “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and “Zeit” produce their own Austria pages.

Focus on digitization since 1995

The media politicians from the ÖVP and the Greens speak of “digitization” – but never mention that the “Wiener Zeitung” has been published online since 1995. All print offers are also available online free of charge as a service for the public. Younger target groups are addressed in social media.

Instead of further developing the established daily newspaper’s existing online activities, the government wants the “Wiener Zeitung” to become a completely new “product”. The new website is scheduled to launch on July 1 of this year. The contents are still unclear today, a “product development team” is working on behalf of the managing director of the Wiener Zeitung GmbH. The government doesn’t know what will become of the Wiener Zeitung. But she knows very well that the existing “Wiener Zeitung” in print and online format will be destroyed.

Pressure on the “Wiener Zeitung” since the Kurz government

The proclaimed intention of the federal government to preserve the brand would not be met. Rather, it would be a “cover of the Wiener Zeitung” that would be robbed of its core.

It would be the end of a process that began with the government under Sebastian Kurz in 2017. The “Wiener Zeitung” was not dependent on government advertisements due to its continuous income from mandatory publications. So the end of compulsory publications was written into the government program and the pressure on the “Wiener Zeitung” was increased. This was sold as “relief for entrepreneurs”, but with the new “household tax” far higher burdens are imposed.

Saving cannot be the motive of the ÖVP and the Greens today. Because the Wiener Zeitung GmbH will in future receive 16.5 million euros directly from the federal budget. Six million of these are earmarked for a journalistic “practice program” called “Media Hub” – much more than for existing and well-functioning offers. The “Media Hub” is also questionable in terms of democratic politics, because it is based at the managing director of the Wiener Zeitung GmbH and is therefore in the direct chain of instructions of the Federal Chancellery. Such a construction is frowned upon in liberal democracies.

Manager leaves the workforce in the dark

Only 7.5 million euros are earmarked for the follow-up product to the “Wiener Zeitung”. Dozens of redundancies in the existing editorial department and in the entire company are imminent, while a new journalistic precariat is being produced via the Media Hub under the wing of the Federal Chancellery for 6 million euros. But the managing director of Wiener Zeitung GmbH leaves the workforce in the dark. In recent years he has not pushed the further development of the “Wiener Zeitung” but rather built up new business areas that the editors of the “Wiener Zeitung” never benefited from – even though there is still a law that states that the only company object of the “Wiener Zeitung”. Wiener Zeitung GmbH the “production and publishing of the ‘Wiener Zeitung'” (State Printing Act Section 1, Paragraph 4). The claims of the media minister, according to which every editor will also have a perspective in the “new medium”, are proving to be untrue in view of the forthcoming staff reductions.

For real prospects for the future

We therefore call on the MPs from the ÖVP and the Greens: Do not push through the draft law at any price! Together with the editors, look for solutions for an Austrian cultural asset, as is also demanded by thousands of supporters from various industries and institutions. The proposed moratorium of 18 months would be a realistic time frame for this, which would mean no more than a blink of an eye in view of a history spanning 320 years. Let’s work together to ensure that the Republic’s newspaper has real prospects for the future in print and online.

“Wiener Zeitung” editorial team