Van der Bellen: “APA is nearly omnipresent in the media” - Mair: “Trust is the most important asset” - Pig: “I have enormous respect and gratitude for the founding of APA”
On Wednesday, 6 October 2021, APA – Austria Press Agency celebrated its 75th anniversary as an independent, cooperatively organised news agency with a ceremony. At the start of the event in Vienna’s Arsenal, President Alexander Van der Bellen paid tribute to APA. With news that is reliable, fact-based and as objective as possible, APA represents a “foundation for liberal democracy” and for him is also a “constant companion”.
The guests at the ceremony included Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens), Federal Minister for the EU and Constitution Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP), Federal Minister for Women, Family, Youth and Integration Susanne Raab (ÖVP), Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and numerous other leading representatives from the media, politics and business.
“APA is ubiquitous,” Van der Bellen said, opening his address, only to put it more simply just afterwards: „It is nearly omnipresent in the media.” Since his time as a politician, APA has been a “constant companion”. “Not by any stretch of the imagination can I remember a press conference of mine that APA didn’t attend.” The news agency is therefore fulfilling its mission: “to report on events, circumstances and conditions in politics. Quickly, independently and objectively”, according to Van der Bellen.
“News that is reliable, trustworthy, fact-based and as objective as possible is the foundation of our liberal democracy,” the Federal President reminded us. The establishment of this foundation is the responsibility of a free and independent media. “The fact that APA provides us with this, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, is something for which I would like to thank you today and wish you all the best on your anniversary,” Van der Bellen said.
In his address, Markus Mair, president of the Association of Austrian Newspapers (VÖZ) and CEO of Styria Media Group, looked back first at the beginnings of APA as a cooperative. It was “thoroughly remarkable” that after World War II the Austrian dailies of the time joined forces to found a news agency that was independent of the state – even if the political influence was unmistakable in the initial years due to the considerable number of party-affiliated newspapers. Today, APA’s editorial independence is also ensured by its economic independence and strength. “That’s, if you will, the DNA of independent news agencies.”
Among other things, Mair identified fake news and manipulation as a current challenge. In connection with this, APA’s fact-checking platform, which was established two years ago, has proven its worth. “This is because the trust of all its customers is the most important capital for APA as well as for media publishers,” the president of VÖZ stated. Apart from trust as a “stable currency”, diversification in the IT sector was undoubtedly the “key to mastering the challenges of the future in the area of digitalisation”.
Clemens Pig, CEO of APA, then addressed the guests. “I personally have enormous respect and equally enormous gratitude for the founding of APA 75 years ago,” he said. For the founding fathers recognised two things of fundamental importance: setting up APA in the legal form of a cooperative and making Austrian media its owners. This ensures editorial independence against external influences and is „an ingenious setup“.
“If APA hadn’t existed yet as a media joint venture in 2021, it would certainly be founded tonight,” Pig said. However, APA’s basic mission would be expanded and shared technology and digital solutions for the media market would be written into it. This is because the demand for IT services is continually growing, as is APA’s response to it. Projects that APA is running as a cross-media initiative are especially exciting, for example, the Austria Video Platform and digital newspaper stand Austria-Kiosk. Pig was particularly pleased about the presence of numerous leading European news agency representatives. The professional exchange with them is especially important.
Karin Thiller, managing director of APA, emphasised that the news agency is always evolving. For example, efforts are currently being made to give the existing platforms a new form. “We are currently in the process of further developing our news flagship, APA Online Manager, in order to give it a contemporary look.” New job profiles have also been created – such as chief digital officer and verification officer. Due to its cooperative structure, APA is a platform in which “solutions benefit everyone across the media industry”, Thiller said, calling attention to the unifying element of the news agency, which she sees as an organisational as well as technological platform.
APA Editor-in-Chief Johannes Bruckenberger emphasised independence as the basis for day-to-day journalistic work. This was “hard fought” at the time of its foundation. For a free press needs independent news agencies that ensure the “free flow of information”. According to the APA editor-in-chief, one embarks on a daily search for facts and the best possible version of the truth, which is more important than ever in the age of disinformation. In doing so, one relies on virtues such as maintaining distance, fact-based research, balance, transparency of sources and not giving in to insubordinate interventions, yet still handling one’s own false assessments and errors transparently and free of fear. “And the utmost priority is: accuracy before speed,” Bruckenberger said, concluding his speech.
Following several speeches, media experts discussed the latest challenges as well as approaches for maintaining the credibility and success of media in a panel discussion titled “Independent Media: Value and Currency in a New Opinion Economy”. During the official festivities, Hermann Petz received the Alfred Geiringer Ring of Honour, which APA awards in memory of its founding father for extraordinary services to the independence of the Austrian news agency.
APA was founded 75 years ago at the initiative of the Allies together with the news agencies Reuters and AP as a private cooperative owned by daily newspapers. In the meantime, ORF, too, has become an owner. APA commenced operation on 1 September 1946 and has since developed into the country’s leading electronic information provider. Reliability, speed and balance are the central principles of the news agency, which operates independently of the state as only few other news agencies do worldwide. APA-Group now has several successful subsidiaries such as APA-OTS, APA-DeFacto, APA-IT and APA-PictureDesk. It is also the largest shareholder of the Swiss news agency KEYSTONE-SDA-ATS AG.