DCrucial weeks are ahead of the Austrian public broadcaster ORF. On the one hand, there is a discussion about whether and how the influence of (party) politics on the broadcaster should be reduced. Recently, two leadership positions have become vacant because their holders, so the allegations, have leaned too closely on the wishes of politicians, one on the right-wing FPÖ, the other on the Christian Democratic ÖVP. On the other hand, a decision on the future financing of the ORF is pending.
The head of the ORF state studio in Lower Austria, Robert Ziegler, resigned on Friday. The previous weekend had been election day in the federal state, and the ÖVP suffered heavy losses in its stronghold. As if by coincidence, a few weeks before the election, reports appeared that Ziegler had regularly intervened in the state studio’s reporting, so that state governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner was regularly and well informed. The ORF headquarters set up a commission of inquiry. Ziegler now anticipated their results by resigning. TV news boss Matthias Schrom resigned last year, from whom intimate chats with former FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache about ORF internals had become known.
Not only the ÖVP has connections to the ORF
The fact that the ÖVP danced a tight pas de deux in the state capital of St. Pölten with the local ORF state studio was as secret as the fact that the pope is Catholic. The fact that the reports have now been launched and are having such a strong effect has to do with the fact that the ÖVP is practically defenseless due to all the chat affairs from the estate of the “turquoise” troupe around Sebastian Kurz. Outside of her stronghold, she feels – like the FPÖ – traditionally treated badly in the ORF. The “Turks” also used the majorities achieved during the Kurz era for a fairly casual personnel policy.
What is happening now is a rollback. Obviously there are other “turquoises” placed in central places that are a thorn in the side of others in the house. There should be no question that interventions like Ziegler’s make a mockery of the ORF’s mandate to be independent. And the party-political structure of the foundation board, in which there are factions known as “circles of friends”, is also worth discussing – although a more convincing solution for the composition of this supervisory body than taking into account elected majorities has not yet been invented. In any case, the picture is currently quite one-sided. As if there hadn’t been any influence earlier with other majorities or even in other state studios like Vienna. As if the Greens, who govern with the ÖVP, hadn’t put one of their own at the head of the board of trustees. And as if there weren’t frank conversations between ORF people and left-wing or liberal politicians about which colleague is politically ticking and how.
The ORF should become cheaper
The discussion about the ORF budget should be seen in this light. Media Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) wants to meet ORF Director General Roland Weißmann this week to talk about the financial situation. At the weekend, she combined the announcement with austerity appeals that an “ORF discount” had to be provided. Weißmann – who was brought into office with the current ÖVP majority on the foundation board – had recently sounded the alarm: ORF was facing “one of the biggest financing crises in its history”. In 2024 there is a risk of a minus of 70 million euros. Raab obviously doesn’t want to fill the hole. However, the demand for a discount met with sharp criticism from left-wing and liberal representatives (including the Green Foundation Council).
However, the discussion is not only about the amount, but also about the financing model in general. This has to do with a decision by the Constitutional Court. It demands that the streaming of ORF offers must also be subject to a fee in the future. In order to do this, there are three models: a reform of the fee procedure; a budget levy that brought in additional millions for German broadcasters; or funding from the federal budget. The Supreme Court has decided that the reform must be wrapped up by 2024.