by Edward Steen, Vienna April 21, 2023
Despite protests from all over Europe and by Austria’s leading figures, the liberal Wiener Zeitung, the world’s oldest-surviving daily paper, looks set to disappear after more than three centuries. Described by one outraged intellectual as “Austria’s visiting card”, the fiercely independent paper looks set to disappear into – mostly- the Internet and a kind of official, government-controlled “media hub” after June 30 – just short of the paper’s 320th birthday.
On 22/04, a constitutional committee decided to discontinue the Wiener Zeitung in its current form, with the journalists’ union fearing the loss of 100 jobs, and journalists have no control over the editorial statutes or who becomes editor. The government coalition of People’s Party (ÖVP) and Greens want to pass the law in the National Council, and the Federal Council is supposed to give its approval in May.
But what risks the affair becoming a political debacle is the current row in the opposition Socialist (SPÖ) camp about who should lead the party into federal elections in 2024. All candidates now loudly insist on the paper’s survival. The current federal party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner calls the closure proposal “a cultural and media-political disgrace.”
Her main challender, Burgenland governor Hans Peter Doskozil, calls it “incomprehensible”. Media Minister Susanne Raab promised last October that every employee would have the opportunity “to participate in the new business model”. Journalists’ union leader Eike-Clemens Kullmann says such assurances are worthless, with a potential job 100 layoffs, the editorial statute undermined, and journalists having no say about the appointment of the next editor-in-chief.
Despite opposition promises to undo the decision if or when they regain power, events next week are likely to prove decisive.
- Wiener Zeitung 21/04/23 “Taking care of the media landscape” – satirist’s view of paper’s future (DE – right click in text for Eng translation)
- Wiener Zeitung 21/04/23 Ex-editor Hämmerle, passionate defender of WZ, leaves paper
- Wiener Zeitung 19/04/23 Hail of protests across Europe
- Wiener Zeitung 18/04/23 Editorial plea for stay of execution (in Eng translation)
- AEJ 22/03/23 Wiener Zeitung latest – creeping govt takeover
- AEJ 25/01/23 Austrian Parliament petitioned to save Wiener Zeitung