EFEBy Alejandro Gimenez Vienna

It has survived revolutions, the fall of European empires and two world wars, but the Austrian daily newspaper Wiener Zeitung is now at risk of shutting down.

The paper, founded in 1703 under the name Wiennerisches Diarium, is considered to be the world’s oldest surviving daily paper.

It became the country’s official gazette after it was nationalized in 1898 by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

Walter Hammarle, the editor-in-chief, tells Efe that plans to digitize Austria's official Gazette, which the Wiener Zeitung publishes in a weekly supplement, could see the paper to lose 75% of its revenues, which would jeopardize the jobs of 100 of its 200 employees, 60 of whom are journalists.

Although state-owned, the Wiener Zeitung maintains an independent editorial line, which allows it to stand out for the quality of its political and economic reporting.

"The brand of Wiener Zeitung is a highly valuable brand for all German speaking regions," Hammerle tells Efe in an interview at the newspaper's offices, adding that it is committed to "quality" and "independent" journalism.

Hammerle says he recognizes how hard it is to run a public communication medium without having the support of the current government.

All companies in the country are obliged to publish their public announcements in a weekly supplement of the Wiener Zeitung, in exchange for a fee.

The Austrian government, led by conservative Sebastian Kurz, welcomed an EU directive on the use of digitized tools, putting the paper in the danger of closing down and losing fees paid by companies.

Hammerle says digitization is necessary, but warns it would eliminate fees, which could affect between 70% and 75% of the newspaper's revenues.

The state could support the Wiener Zeitung, which has a circulation of about 18,000 on weekdays and more than 40,000 on weekends, with just 10 million euros ($12 million) per year, according to Hammerle.

The conservative-led government has said that it will keep the paper’s weekly supplement working until the end of 2022.

Last week, a group of 80 university professors sent an open letter to the government against any potential closure of the Wiener Zeitung, highlighting that it is an important medium "in times of 'fake news' and propaganda."

Others have even asked for the Wiener Zeitung to be added to Unesco's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Head of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in Austria, Rubina Möhring, says the the disappearance of the newspaper would be a "big problem for the country's democracy."

"The main problem is that most of the owners of these newspapers have a similar ideology and we see a conservatory monopoly in the media," Möhring told Efe.

"Austrian society needs more newspapers like this", concludes Möhring. EFE

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