The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (Österreichischer Rundfunk, ORF), the public service media operator, is the largest media group in Austria with a portfolio of four nationwide television channels and 12 radio stations. ORF is headquartered in Vienna and operates regional studios in Austria’s all nine federal provinces. ORF was established in 1924.
Television: ORF 1, ORF 2, ORF 2 Europe, ORF III, ORF Sport +
Radio: Ö1, Hitradio Ö3, FM4; Regional stations: Radio Burgenland, Radio Kärnten, Radio Niederösterreich, Radio Oberösterreich, Radio Salzburg, Radio Steiermark, Radio Tirol, Radio Vorarlberg, Radio Wien, Radio Slovenski
State Media Matrix Typology: Independent Public (IP)
Ownership and governance
According to the ORF Act, the law that established the public broadcaster in Austria, ORF is a foundation with a remit to fulfill a number of duties and mandates that are nailed down in the ORF Act.
The highest governing structure at ORF is its Foundation Council whose members are appointed as following: six members by the Federal Government according to the proportion of the seats of each political party in the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament; nine members by the provinces; nine members by the Federal Government on its own decision; six members by the Audience Council, an independent body in charge of monitoring the programming of ORF (see more under Independent Assessment/Oversight below); and five members by the ORF staff.
The ORF Director General is appointed by the Foundation Council for a period of five years.
This appointment procedure of the Foundation Council, although it allows the government to appoint members on the main governing body, has been established in such a way to prevent the dominance of the state, hence its control, in the ORF.
Source of funding and budget
As a not-for-profit organization, ORF reinvests its revenues in programming and services. ORF is funded through a combination of revenues from license fees (paid by all owners of broadcast reception equipment in Austria) and advertising, in a proportion of roughly 60% to 40%.
In 2020, ORF operated with a budget of over €1bn, which was more or less the same as in the previous year, according to the station’s latest annual report. The price of the annual license varies depending on the province. They range between €22.45 and €28.65 a month.
In June 2023, the Austrian government approved the amendment of the ORF act, which in July 2023 was adopted by the lower chamber of parliament. A week later the upper chamber of Austria’s parliament rejected the amended law, however, all political observers expect the new act to be eventually approved by authorities.
According to the new law, which is likely to take effect in 2024, ORF’s model of funding is going to change significantly. The license fee is to be dropped and replaced with a household levy.
The household levy is preferred as a funding model for public media in many countries as it is device independent: households have to pay it regardless of whether they own a television set.
The changes in ORF’s funding model have been accompanied by a package of savings that the company’s management had to present under pressure from authorities. ORF is likely to cut expenses related to the Radio Symphony Orchestra, the ORF Sports channel and its streaming portals. According to a package of savings presented by ORF’s head Roland Weissmann in February 2023, the station is likely to save up to €320m by 2026.
The change of ORF’s funding model was made at the request of the government. One of the coalition parties, the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) asked for cuts, a signal of their aversion against the public broadcaster, which is known for its critical coverage. Its partner, the Green Party, wanted to replace the license with a household levy to ensure that the station is insulated financially from future shocks, a signal of the Greens’ support for ORF, according to local analysts consulted for this report.
There are no rules imposed by the government on the ORF’s editorial management and policies. The broadcaster has traditionally been perceived as editorially independent and appreciated for its objectivity and impartiality.
However, although the law prevents politicians from becoming members of the Foundation Council, the station has come under increased political attacks in recent years. Right-wing parties in particular have become extremely critical of the ORF, calling for the license fee to be abolished (as they know such a move will end the independence, or even the existence, of the ORF).
However, in spite of all these attacks, ORF remains the most trusted news service in Austria. Moreover, the civil society in Austria is extremely strong, promptly pushing back against political attacks on the public service media and aggressively calling on politicians to stay away from the ORF.
The appointment of Roland Weissmann as Director General of ORF as of January 2022 raised concerns about the broadcaster’s independence as Weissmann is seen as a political candidate of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) in power in Austria. So far, this appointment has not had repercussions for the editorial independence of the broadcaster, yet developments at the station are closely followed.
ORF has a Code of Conduct that aims at ensuring the quality and credibility of the ORF’s news coverage. The code was agreed upon by the editorial office committee (a group of ORF journalists) and approved by the Audience Council and the Foundation Council.
The Audience Council is the body in charge of ensuring independent assessment and oversight of the editorial coverage at ORF. Its main mission is to protect the interests of the listeners and viewers, according to the ORF Act.
The members of the Audience Council are appointed by civil society, mostly professional groups, churches and NGOs such as the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, the Conference of the Presidents of the Austrian Chambers of Agriculture, the Federal Chamber of Labour and the Federation of Austrian Trade Unions, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, and the Academy of Sciences.
The Audience Council is not following any instructions or orders, but carries out its activity entirely following its own decisions and existing rules and laws.