Media policy – decision year for the ORF

There is an election campaign in Austria, largely unnoticed by the general public. However, it is not about a federal or state government, but rather the chairmanship of the “Grafschaft” on Vienna’s Küniglberg. Because on August 10th of this year a new General Director will be enthroned on the Küniglberg. Only recently, the previous director general asked handpicked journalists to start the election campaign in confidence and explained his election program, which of course should not be understood as such. Right at the top of the wish list: a new, better ORF law for the ORF.

Subtext of the event: Wrabetz (60) probably does not want to leave the field without a fight. With his new application (he has held the chief post on the Küniglberg since 2006) is to be expected, say experts of the matter. Except in the event that failure is absolutely fixed. In his more than 20-year career on ORF, Wrabetz has actually survived governments of almost all colors. It would be naive and unwise to write it off prematurely, although, you have to be honest, the signs of the times are more likely to point to a generation change on the Küniglberg.

Küniglberg construction site: The new building for the newsroom is being built under General Director Alexander Wrabetz.  - © apa / Herbert Neubauer
Küniglberg construction site: The new building for the newsroom is being built under General Director Alexander Wrabetz. – © apa / Herbert Neubauer

In fact, the number of those eligible to vote in this election is manageable: the ORF Foundation Council has 35 members, which, in accordance with the ORF Act, appoints the ORF General Director with a simple majority. In a further election, probably in autumn, the rest of the board of directors will be appointed, such as television, radio and commercial and technical directors. Here, too, one stone is unlikely to remain unturned.

The appointment for 2021 differs from the previous one in one decisive point. This time the members of the board of trustees close to the ÖVP are in the majority. Because the council is composed of representatives of the federal government, the states, the political parties, the public council and the workforce representatives. Six country representatives, seven representatives appointed by the federal government as well as three public councils and two party mandates result in a majority for the ÖVP even without employee representatives.

Comfortable majorities

One can probably assume that the ÖVP will also agree the appointment in an ongoing coalition with the coalition partner, the Greens. They can contribute three more mandates on the Board of Trustees to a comfortable majority. Those who know the subject point out that the issue of ORF is the responsibility of the ÖVP within the coalition.

In the case of similar appointments within the sphere of influence of the Federal Chancellery, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has repeatedly made people sit up and take notice with unconventional personnel decisions from outside the organization. Observers assume that the new person in the executive office on the sixth floor of the Küniglberg enjoys the confidence of the Federal Chancellor.

“Press” editor-in-chief Rainer Nowak has been mentioned time and again. ProSiebenSat1 Austria boss Markus Breitenecker, who built the successful Austrian offshoot of the broadcasting group, is also someone you can count on. But managers who do not work in the media sector are also mentioned. Augurs, for example, have Martin Radjaby-Rasset on the list. The manager took on responsibility for strategic marketing control and marketing in Erste Group in 2017, but started his career at Ö3, where he was in charge of programming for the station until 2011. He then successfully developed political campaigns, such as those of Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen.

From the environment

Philipp Maderthaner falls into a similar category, as is a campaign expert for the ÖVP and entrepreneurs. In 2017 he was in charge of the election campaign of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. In 2018, the international management consultancy Ernest & Young voted him Entrepreneur of the Year. Also popular: Gregor Schütze, formerly finance director of ATV and agency founder. He has practically been a member of the ORF Board of Trustees since 2018. But also within ORF there are those responsible who have observers for higher tasks on the slip. For example Roland Weißmann, chief financial officer of television and vice-financial director of the ORF and most recently responsible for setting up and expanding the streaming agendas of public law. He would also be a candidate for commercial director.

Ascent from within

Lisa Totzauer has her hands full with the redesign of ORF1, which has been under quota pressure for years. For years she has also been considered a logical candidate for promotion to the board of directors. The same can be said about her counterpart from ORF2: Alexander Hofer is also the head of entertainment at ORF and is responsible for some very successful formats. ORF2 is also doing relatively well in terms of quota.

Whoever takes the helm in the super tanker ORF, there is a lot to do in Austria’s largest media company with a billion euro turnover and 4,000 employees. There has been a lack of ideas for years to counter the creeping loss of importance on the market. For years, ORF Radios have been proving with stable market shares that losing their market leader position is not a must in an increasingly diversified market. The fact that streaming is the future was recognized late, but nevertheless. After the analysis, there is still a lack of quick, courageous action. The coming months will show who is the best for this.

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