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Austria – (F4) Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy

Score in short:

Newsroom democracy is established by editorial statutes, which are common in most Austrian newsrooms. But journalists have limited influence on hiring decisions regarding the editor-in-chief.

Score in detail:

The Austrian Media Act allows media organizations to establish editorial statutes (§ 5, Mediengesetz 2009). Stricter rules apply to the public service broadcaster. The law (§ 33, ORF Gesetz 2009) requires editorial statutes. 61 % of Austrian journalists work in media organizations that provide statutes (Kaltenbrunner, Karmasin, Kraus, & Zimmermann 2008, p. 64). According to our respondents, democratic practices in the newsroom are less common on a local level, where editors-in-chief are appointed by the owner without participation of the journalistic staff council. Similar situations can be found in the online media sector. At a national level, though, some newspapers have established rules on democratic participation of the newsroom council, especially regarding appointment of the editor-in-chief. The newsroom assemblies of Die Presse and Profil, for example, can reject the editor’s proposal for a new editor-in-chief with a two thirds majority (Kurier 2007; Redaktionsstatut der Tageszeitung Die Presse, 1974, § 7). In fact, such rejections have already occurred in both newspapers. Nevertheless, opportunities to make own proposals are few, and participation in other management or staff decisions or in framing future formal rights is also relatively rare.

Concerning the ORF, all leading positions have to be publicly announced and staff decisions are rather transparent. Nevertheless, the influence of the newsroom council and its representatives is limited to an advisory function (§ 33, ORF Gesetz, 2009; § 5, ORFRedakteurstatut, 2002). Participation rights concerning changes in program schemes and journalistic content exist, however, there is no participation in management or supervisory boards. According to our respondents, journalists are quite aware of their participation rights and practice them seriously.

Regarding the journalistic daily routine and the framing of political issues and opinions, formalized rules and institutionalized decision processes are rare in Austrian newsrooms. Discussions about such issues occur frequently in department and editorial meetings. Nevertheless, the actual decision is up to the journalist himself. for the ORF, clear editorial guidelines regarding impartiality and balance are established by the public service remit (ORF Gesetz 2009, § 4), the editorial statutes (ORFRedakteurstatut 2002, § 1) and the company’s mission statement. editorial guidelines in a fixed and written form are uncommon in private media companies; only 25 % of Austrian journalists are working in a media organization with a written code of ethics (Kaltenbrunner et al. 2008, p. 64). Nevertheless, moral and ethical rules are informally present and meant to be implicitly understood as a journalistic principle.