Interview: “When politicians attack journalists, they destroy the credibility of one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”

Dr. Daniela Kraus, General Secretary, Concordia Press Club


Concordia is the oldest press club in the world. You have a Ph.D. in history. Has the press in the past ever had to struggle with so many challenges at once? COVID-19, technologically and economically superior competition, the breakdown of revenue models, a polarized society, changing usage behaviors – the list goes on. 

The situation is serious, but we should avoid falling into excessive self-pity, especially in the German-speaking world. Just think of the situation in Austria and Germany in the 1930s. In comparison, if you will allow me a Viennese expression, it would be bold to gripe too much now (da wäre es verwegen, jetzt zu viel zu raunzen). (Specifically with regard to Concordia: The majority of our members had been forced to emigrate, had been expelled or had been murdered by 1938.) But even when I think of the founding years after 1859: At that time, it was still necessary in Austria to fight for a modern press-freedom law and against censorship.

At the same time, we have to say that while the current challenges are indeed complex, there are also incredible opportunities. Yes, the competition is more intense, and the relevant issues of our time are complex, demanding enormous expertise. But the production and distribution of journalism is simpler and less complicated than ever before.

What lessons from the past can help us in dealing with today’s crisis?

Giving up is not an option. Thus, if we are convinced that journalistic work is necessary and valuable, we must find ways that it can reach its audience, and ways that it can be funded.  

What I see as a very serious mistake of the past (but speaking here of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s) is the contempt for the audience.

Journalism needs intensive exchange with, proximity to and yes, connection with its recipients. This must in turn be paired with a professional self-confidence and ethical consciousness (even if this may sound old-fashioned). We need to be very clear, and communicate transparently, about what journalism actually is, how it differs from other forms of communication and what rules it is made by. And of course, media companies must then also adhere to these rules.

At this year’s M100, we want to set the course for a modern media policy. Currently, where do you see the greatest need for action that will ensure we still have a pluralistic, independent and resilient fourth estate in 10 years’ time?

Media policy must address the framework for an independent public broadcasting service. It must address the system for funding the media, especially with regard to incentives for innovation and quality, but also through the recognition of non-profit status for journalistic entities, for example. It must secure the conditions for information freedom and unhindered reporting. On this last point, I also particularly include measures for the protection and safety of journalists, who are increasingly exposed online and on the streets to incidents ranging from hate attacks all the way to physical violence. In this respect I see an urgent need for policy-level action in Europe.

However, the most important thing is perhaps on an entirely different level: When politicians verbally attack and disparage serious media outlets and journalists, they destroy the credibility of one of the cornerstones of our democracy.