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Austria – (C7) The watchdog and the media’s mission statement

Score in short:

A significant value is attributed to the watchdog function of media in Austria.

Score in detail:

The president of the journalists’ union mentioned that control of power was one of the most important issues of journalism, even though he argued that awareness of this was higher among older journalists than the younger generation. Our interviewees from the ORF considered their control function as crucial for democracy; the respondents from print media also attributed a high value to the watchdog role of journalism. However, some admitted that in small newsrooms the lack of staff interferes with this highly valuable role.

In online media and radio broadcasting, where a large amount of news is produced and published several times a day, the capacities for investigative journalism are limited. On the contrary, our respondent from the weekly news magazine emphasized the importance of watchdog journalism, stating that every piece of journalistic research should be investigative. On a regional level, our respondents expressed skepticism about methods of investigative journalism referring to the negative connotation of “sensational” journalism, which they rejected.

As examples of watchdog journalism, our respondents referred to the discovery of secret foreign accounts of former Austrian politicians, a scandal about financial corruption in the banking sector concerning politicians and bankers, weapons from Austria in war territories or child abuse in organizations of the Catholic Church. It is noticeable that recent examples for watchdog journalism on a local level are rare and that increasing economic pressure, job insecurity among journalists and an increasing workload are the main threats to the watchdog role of journalism.