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Austria – (E7) Code of ethics at the national level (structure)

Score in short:

A code of ethics exists, but the Austrian Press Council has been re-established in 2010 only.

Score in detail:

The Austrian Press Council (Presserat) was founded in 1961 as a cooperation between the journalists’ union and the publishers’ association (VÖZ: Verband Österreichischer Zeitungen). The code of ethics established by the Press Council was adopted in 1999 and is formally accepted by most Austrian newspapers. Complaints are examined by one of the Press Council’s two senates in case the Ombudsmen cannot mediate between the complainant and the accused newspaper (Österreichischer Presserat 2011, p. 3). Verified complaints must be published by the newspaper concerned. In case that a newspaper continuously or seriously violates the code or refuses to publish the decision of the Press Council, it can withdraw its certification. However, no legal actions or penalties are possible. In fact, after a controversy concerning the news coverage of Kronen Zeitung in 2001, the publishers’ association withdrew its support from the Press Council (Gottwald, Kaltenbrunner, & Karmasin 2006, p. 9). It therefore was de facto inactive from 2002 to 2010. In 2010, the Press Council was reestablished (Österreichischer Presserat 2011, p. 2), but criticized because its decisions are supposed to be final without the possibility of further legal actions in the same case (I. Weber, 2010) and because the lack of sanctions is likely to limit the effectiveness of the Press Council.

Even though most of our interviewees accepted the guidelines of the code of ethics and affirmed compliance with high ethical standards in their newsrooms, they also asserted the code’s irrelevance in the daily journalistic business. None of them uses the code as a reference in internal discussions about ethical standards. Some editorsin-chief even admitted to not knowing the actual content. Moreover, most of our interviewees expressed their skepticism about the effectiveness and significance of the Press Council as a self-governing body.

In addition, there are a few other independent journalists’ associations that promote good practice, quality and ethical standards. An association that primarily emphasizes education and further training of journalists is Kuratorium für Journalistenausbildung (KfJ). Another association dedicated to the improvement of journalistic standards is Initiative für Qualität im Journalismus (IQ), which organizes public discussions about ethical standards and quality in journalistic work.