Deutsche Welle (DW) is a German news and information broadcasting channel that explicitly targets a worldwide audience. DW cannot be received within Germany.
Deutsche Welle radio service is distributed via shortwave, Internet, and satellite, and its television service is delivered by satellite to relay stations as well as to households in various world regions. In addition, DW distributes content through an Internet platform (including weblogs). According to DW studies, DW radio reaches a 65 million audience and DW television 28 million viewers weekly worldwide (Bettermann 2005, 10). DW radio and television rebroadcasts programs from various public service channels and has its own production studios in Brussels, Moscow, and Washington, DC.
Although operating internationally, DW is a typical German public service broadcaster. It is governed by two “public” commissions (broadcasting board and administrative board), to which the director general reports, is funded by public funds provided by the German foreign office, and is regulated under federal law through the Deutsche Welle act (Gesetz über die Rundfunkanstalt des Bundesrechts “Deutsche Welle”). As other public service channels in Germany, DW is also allowed to sell limited commercial airtime. Today, DW has a high reputation as a German international news and information program. However, its history, program profile, and journalistic approach are quite distinct from other internationally operating news and information channels.
During the 1930s, radio emerged as a household medium across Europe, throughout North and South America, and in some Asian countries such as Japan. Shortwave radio emerged in this era as the first “globalizing” medium, being able to deliver signals terrestrially across vast distances and across borders. This was when the first international radio services were launched. National shortwave radio services were seen as a way of extending “sovereignty” to a worldwide sphere by targeting audiences in other countries (1) in order to provide additional news sources, (2) for propaganda purposes, or (3) for the shaping of a national “imagined” community (Anderson 2006) by means of reaching expatriate audiences.
In this first phase of shortwave journalism, the Voice of Russia (VoR) was formed in 1929 (the first program targeting Germany with a program called “Hier ist Moskau”), the BBC World Service began its transborder program as the “Empire Service” in 1932, the BBC’s European Service began in 1940, and Voice of America (VoA) began in 1942 (also with a German program). Deutsche Welle was established much later, on May 3, 1953, in the early Cold War period.
The BBC and VoA already had a clear focus on so-called “public diplomacy.” However, in its early days DW’s program was restricted by the Allied German government, the High Commission, which banned international distribution of programs in languages other than German. For this reason, DW’s early program was only aired in German and simply aimed to “connect” German expatriates living in North America.
In 1954, as soon as the Allied Government ban was removed, radio transmissions in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese began. At this stage DW was also established as a federal public service institution.
Throughout the 1960s, when radio and television were not only “household” but rapidly becoming “mass media,” and mass-produced radio technology allowed easy access to shortwave in many world regions, DW also began to expand its international reach and diversify its program. The radio program was aired in a variety of additional languages such as Farsi, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, and Polish, and also delivered by satellite to regional relay stations in Australia, East Asia, and Africa. This expansion of the radio program into the international sphere, by focusing on specific cultures worldwide, continued throughout the 1970s.
DW’s program philosophy changed in the mass media age of the 1970s when international radio stations began to compete for local audiences worldwide. During this time, DW attempted to increase the number of regional relay stations and aired information programs in local languages (such as Dari and Pushtu for audiences in Afghanistan). DW’s overall goal was to represent and promote a new postwar Germany as a modern European country. News and information programs covered the latest political and nonpolitical events from Germany. In addition, German language courses were launched in cooperation with the Goethe Institute.
DW underwent major restructuring in the context of German reunification. The former international radio station of the socialist German Democratic Republic, Radio Berlin International (RBI), had been explicitly launched in 1959 to compete with DW’s worldwide audiences and had in particular targeted the east European region. In 1990, what remained of RBI was merged with DW, forming a more powerful broadcasting organization. DW incorporated the RBI agreements in the territory of the former Soviet Union, such as with Radio Moscow.
Throughout the 1990s, DW strengthened its position internationally by launching DW-TV, Deutsche Welle Television, in 1992 in Berlin, programming 16 hours a day, delivered via satellite and relay stations in German, English, and Spanish. The launch of DW-TV (and also of the pan-European channel, Euronews) was a reaction to CNN’s dominance in the 1990 –1991 Gulf War.
The objective of DW has been further refined since then. Globalization and the increasing number of public service (BBC World), commercial (CNN, Fox Cable News), and privately owned international broadcasters (Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English) have influenced the program strategy. Today’s DW mission is media diplomacy (Gilboa 2000), which is viewed in a broad sense. Since 2004 a DW academy provides training programs for journalists of developing countries and crisis regions, especially focused on young journalists, as well as intercultural training. The new program philosophy is clearly defined in the amended Deutsche Welle act (2004). This act defines the public role of DW as no longer promoting a modern Germany and German viewpoints on world affairs but conveying a broader spectrum of perspectives on world events. This objective represents a new approach to international journalism, by including a variety of local viewpoints and making them transparent to a world audience. A recent study has analyzed audience reactions in the Arab world to this “dialogue” journalism and concludes that one of the key parameters of “dialogue” is to build trust among the audience (Zoellner 2006). The Internet will definitely help DW to reach out and extend this dialogue by including the audience interactively. The Internet is not defined as an additional version of radio and television, but as a standalone unit that provides specific content.
- Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.
- Bettermann, E. (2005). Rundfunkerneuerung: Ziele und Schwerpunkte der Deutschen Welle – eine Standortbestimmung [Broadcasting revival: Aims and priorities of Deutsche Welle]. Funkkorrespondenz, 53(14), 7–12.
- Deutsche Welle (2007). Your link to Germany: home page. At www.dw-world.de, accessed August 28, 2007.
- Gilboa, E. (2000). Mass communication and diplomacy: A theoretical framework. Communication Theory, 10(3), 175 –309.
- Kleinsteuber, H. J. (2002). Auslandsrundfunk in der Kommunikationspolitik: Zwischen globaler Kommunikation und Dialog der Kulturen [Overseas broadcasting in communication policy: Between global communication and cultural dialogue]. In A. Hepp & M. Loeffelholz (eds.), Grundlagentexte zur transkulturellen Kommunikation. Constance: UVK, pp. 345 –372.
- Lange, K. J. (2000). Deutsche Welle: Die Rechtsnormen des Deutschen Auslandsrundfunks [Legal norms of German overseas broadcasting]. Berlin: Vistas.
- Zoellner, O. (2006). Dialogue in international broadcasting. Global Media and Communication, 2(2), 160 –182.