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Austria – (C5) Journalists’ job security

Score in short:

Journalists are formally well protected by several laws. Nevertheless, pressures occur in the daily journalistic routine.

Score in detail:

The Media Act contains a clause of conscience protecting journalists from writing against their convictions (Mediengesetz 2009, § 2); furthermore, the Journalist Act includes special privileges and financial compensations for journalists in case of dismissal or termination of contract related to changes in the ownership or political orientation of the medium (Journalistengesetz 2002, § 8 & 11). In addition, there are several collective agreements for journalists. The president of the journalists’ union defined the legal working conditions for journalists in Austria as “good in theory, bad in practice” and stressed the need for reforms. He also asserted that the situation varies from one media sector to another and is most precarious in the online, private television and radio sector.

According to our respondents, the number of journalists working on freelancing contracts is rather low in Austria. However, the mentioned amount of about 10 % of freelancers lies in strong contrast to the reports of the president of the journalists’ union. He estimated that already half of all journalists in Austria worked as freelancers. Presumably this contradiction derives from the unavailability of official statistics and the difference the collective agreement makes between permanent freelancers (with better working conditions and job security) and those employees not covered by the collective agreement. It was reported recently that the economic crisis led to an increasing number of former journalists whose contracts were renewed under collective agreements of non-journalistic businesses to reduce personnel costs for media companies in the long run (Washietl 2009, p. 34). This implies not only financial drawbacks for the employees, but is a loss of special rights and protection of journalists.