4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity
Since the break up of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) monopoly in 1993, the Austrian media scene operates in three categories:
Österreichische Rundfunk (ORF) is a statutory public institution and the largest media provider in Austria. It operates one provincial studio in each province and since 1975 has operated a studio in Bolzano / Bozen (South Tyrol). The ORF produces four television channels and three national and nine regional radio channels. In addition, it is the largest shareholder in the Austria Press Agency (APA). In October 2011, it launched a 24-hour niche channel with ORF III Kultur und Information.
The role of statutory public broadcasting has been a subject of debate in Austria for many years. The ORF has been through several crises and – not only in view of the high level of competition from private broadcasters – is affected by financial as well as substantive problems. Nothing in the cultural mission of the ORF has changed, only the fulfilment of this mission is assessed differently by different stakeholders. The ORF reacted and since 2009 has published an annual Public Value Report to monitor values – individual (trust, service, entertainment, knowledge and responsibility), social (diversity, orientation, integration, closeness to citizens, cultural mission), Austrian (identity, value creation, federalism), international (European integration, global perspective) and entrepreneurial (innovation, transparency, competence).
Permission has been granted for country-wide private TV broadcasting via the Private Television Act (2001). Among other things, the Act includes extensive regulations related to digital terrestrial television (DVB-T), which is gradually being introduced in Austria by 2010. Licences have been granted to several regional and local private radio stations via the Private Radio Broadcasting Act (2001, 2004 amendment).
The supervisory media authority ("Austrian Communications Authority" / "KommAustria") controlled by the Federal Chancellery (established in 2001) awards permits for private television and radio, is responsible for administration of radio frequencies, functions as a legal oversight body for the private radio operators and is responsible for the preparation and introduction of digital radio. Since 2004, KommAustria has been responsible for the allocation of press and journalism subsidies (see below) and it controls the ORF and private broadcasters' adherence to the advertising regulations. Since October 2010 KommAustria has been entrusted with the legal oversight of the ORF and its subsidiaries and with the legal oversight of private providers of audiovisual media services in the Internet as well as with tasks under the Television Exclusive Rights Act.
The main characteristic of the media landscape in Austria is concentration in the field of the print media, which is one of the highest in the world: in 1988 the leading dailies in Austria – Kronenzeitung (which reaches over 50% of Austrian households) and Kurier merged to become the Mediaprint cartel. Due to another big merger in 2001, the situation has further intensified: one publishing group now publishes the three leading political-economic news weeklies (News, Format, Profil; as well as Trend), media magazines (TV-Media and E-Media) and several lifestyle-magazines. In September 2006, the News Group produced a new tabloid daily Österreich, which immediately became the second-biggest newsapaper in the country.
In 2004, the Austrian communications authority ("KommAustria") assumed responsibility for the press subsidy. Since July 2006, it has been operating as the "Board of Control for Collecting Societies". The "general press subsidy" was replaced by the "distribution subsidy" and the "special press subsidy" was divided into two new categories: the "special subsidy for maintaining the regional diversity of daily newspapers" and the "quality subsidy for press clubs, training institutions and internal editorial training". In total, KommAustria paid out EUR 12.38 million in press subsidies in 2011.
This led to considerable financial problems for smaller newspapers and magazines. Many of the cultural initiatives and small civic organisations / institutions / NGOs which relied on distribution support for their publications, especially at the regional level, have been forced out of business.
In the non-profit media sector, special reference should be made to Austrian Free Radio: 15 stations are currently broadcasting, which can be heard by more than four million listeners. Ca. 3 000 radio workers – most of them are unsalaried – make highly demanding programmes in a total of 25 languages, which have repeatedly received prizes. The programme philosophy is anchored in the Charter of the Free Radio Stations in Austria (1995, new edition 2007). Free Radio Stations are complementary to the media service of the statutory public, as well as the commercial, operators and are fundamentally not commercially oriented.
A particular clause in the Austrian Cartel Act (1988) regulates media mergers. This states that a media merger cannot only be prohibited if a market-dominating position results from it or is strengthened, but also if "media diversity" is threatened by it, although media diversity is not closely defined. Apart from the Cartel Act, there are also limitations on shareholdings in the Private Radio Act relating essentially to the number of receivable programmes and residents supplied.