In the initial years of the Post-war era, in the Fall of 1948, the Austrian Press and Information Service was established as part of the Austrian Consulate General in New York, and the first issue of Austrian Information was published. As Fritz Molden, co-founder of the Information Service, well recalls, the future of the country, freed of National Socialism and under the control of Allied troops, was still uncertain and marked by the increasing threat of the upcoming Cold War. Assistance from the Marshall Plan made it possible for more rapid economic recovery, and as a neutral country Austria was able to position itself successfully as an active member of the UN and the international community and during the Cold War served as a hub between Eastern and Western Europe.
This anniversary issue provides a retrospective as viewed by former heads and deputy heads of the Austrian Information Service. It offers an overview of the challenges of Public Diplomacy and media relations in developing and improving Austria’s image for the past sixty years. For millions of Americans the film, “Sound of Music,” shaped the image of Austria as a country of scenic mountain landscapes and music. Today, Austria continues to enjoy the image of a vital nation of culture with distinguished cultural traditions, such as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Spanish Riding School or the Vienna Boys Choir, some of which were even featured on the front page of major U.S. newspapers.
In the 1970s there were controversial views expressed as well as critical media coverage of Austria’s involvement in the Middle East. The Waldheim debate in the 1980s triggered a broad public discussion on Austria’s failure to fully face the darkest chapters of its history. In retrospect, the critical discussion of that period created an intense media interest, offering an opportunity for more information and for active discussion with the public. The end of the Cold War opened up new opportunities for Austria as a gateway to Central Eastern Europe and as an active and committed member of the European Union.