The little episode is really very, very far back now, but these days it seems to me to be of a certain timeless beauty, or rather unsightly.
It was in the months before the referendum on Austria’s accession to the EU when a member of the government invited me, then editor-in-chief of a lively business magazine, for a confidential talk. My counterpart reports that one of the country’s most powerful media entrepreneurs has offered to run a massive editorial campaign for membership. Not entirely in vain, of course, as thanks to the fatherland he expects an amount of around four million euros based on today’s purchasing power.
When asked how I would assess such a deal, I recommended that the other person enter into it with a closed nose. At that time, I was still much more convinced of the necessity of joining than today, because the price seemed manageable in relation to the benefit for the country. And politics isn’t a girls’ boarding school.
To this day I have no idea whether my advice had any consequences – but the deal clearly came about, as the relevant newspaper reading over the coming months showed. For whatever reason.
Legally, the ice on which it all took place was presumably extraordinarily thin; And that’s exactly why the episode seems so characteristic to me: because the current advertising affair is not an innovation, but rather embedded in a decade-old culture. That doesn’t make them any better, but maybe a little easier to explain. My aim here is not to put something into perspective or to make it disappear through “whataboutism”, but only to outline the actual dimension of the problem.
The fact that the former SPÖ chairman and Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann already mastered the art of sending tax money to “friendly” media and then enjoying extremely benevolent reporting there, is well known in the industry; that the public prosecutor’s office found this soup to be too thin will undoubtedly have purely legal reasons, that is completely clear to anyone who is familiar with the context. When Christian Kern, also an ex-SPÖ boss with relevant expertise, recently explained in an interview on the subject, “The SPÖ was not innocent in accepting such customs, and that is still the case today,” he certainly shows subtle humor.
I can no longer remember how many similar, albeit mostly smaller and less conspicuous, cases of this kind I was allowed to visit journalism in a few decades, not least in the vicinity of the city of Vienna and the journalism it inclined – which is what the current affair is so conspicuous power is less the simple idea on which it is based, but rather the mixture of hubris and audacity with which it was implemented.
Perhaps, in view of the many smaller and larger entanglements that have formed over the years between advertising politics and so many media and their makers, even on this side of the border of legally correct fuss, it would not be unreasonable to turn the indignation regulator down a little bit and take a look to practice a little critical introspection all around; not only in terms of possible immoral points of contact with politics, but also with the advertising industry – with the exception of course, as is well known, the particularly frequent cases of “virgo intacta” in the captain’s cabin of a medium in this business.
And above all, it might not be entirely unreasonable to invest a little more energy in the question of how to replace the toxic advertisements from the state with additional market income as quickly as possible, which may sooner or later be necessary.
Because the drug state money has not necessarily made the media more innovative. Many a venerable magazine, for example, doesn’t look much different today than it did half a century ago; if the auto industry or the aviation business were just as innovative, we would fly to America in the zeppelin today and use road cruisers with shark fins on the stern. Independence from the state is always a good thing for the media and their consumers – which one just has to be able to afford.