Germany is the most populous country in Europe, with 81 million inhabitants. Since 1990, it has been a federal republic consisting of 16 states. Until then the country had been separated into two states as a result of World War II (1939 –1945). Next to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), established in the western occupational zones, there existed the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the territory of the former Soviet zone of occupation. Through reunification in 1990, five new federal states were added.
Germany is a parliamentary democracy with a multi-party system. The administrative authorities are divided between the federal government and the federal state governments. This division of power is also of great importance for the German media system. According to the typology of Hallin and Mancini (2004), Germany is located in the area of the “north European or democratic corporatist model”: characterized by high newspaper circulations, external pluralism of the press, a great level of professionalization among journalists, and state regulation particularly with regard to the public broadcasting system.
Germany is regarded as the birthplace of the modern mass media. In the city of Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450. And it was in Germany, at the beginning of the seventeenth century – after several preliminary stages – that the first periodical papers were developed (Relation in 1605, and Aviso in 1609). At this time the German Reich was a federation of more than 300 territories. As a result, more newspapers were published here than in all other European countries combined. At the end of the seventeenth century there were already about 70; at the end of the eighteenth century the number had risen to more than 200. Special periodicals emerged for a lot of interests.
As early as the sixteenth century, censorship had been introduced as a means of controlling the printing profession, and it was also expanded to newspapers. In Germany, the implementation of freedom of press took longer than in England or the United States. Only in 1874, after the German Reich had been founded as a nation-state, was the freedom of press legally guaranteed. When the Nationalist Socialists seized power in 1933 and erected a totalitarian regime, the press (together with all other media) was subjugated to a strict controlling system, which only came to an end after Germany’s defeat in World War II.
The very first radio program in Germany was broadcast on October 29, 1923, in Berlin. The telecommunications prerogative lay in the hands of the state, so that radio was put under the custody of the postal service. In 1923/1924 nine regional broadcasting organizations were established. Private investors also participated. Yet the majority of the stakes remained in the possession of the state postal service. The leading basic idea was to create a nonpolitical educational and entertaining broadcasting service. In 1932, the private investors were expelled and broadcasting was handed over completely to the state. This facilitated the takeover of the broadcasting system by the Nationalist Socialists in 1933. They centralized broadcasting and put it under the control of the propaganda ministry. The beginnings of television also fell into the period of Nationalist Socialist rule. The first public presentation took place on March 22, 1935.
In 1945, a completely new period in the history of the German media system began. The fundamental decisions were made by the Allied victors. In the three western zones the occupying authorities wanted to set up a free and democratic media system to prevent future misuses by propaganda. In the Soviet occupational zone the media were again tied to the state government and the party leadership, in accordance with Marxist–Leninist theory. The western Allies issued licenses for newspapers (and magazines) to private investors. Thus, 144 papers had come into existence by 1949. In the Soviet occupational zone licenses were almost exclusively issued to parties and organizations. Private ownership of newspapers was prohibited.
At first, the occupying powers also organized radio services. In 1947/1948, still under the influence of the Allies, German laws for those radio stations were created. They were modeled on the British pattern of the public institution BBC. For the supervision of programming, a broadcasting council (“Rundfunkrat”) consisting of representatives of socially relevant groups was deployed. Representatives of the state and of the parties were (at first) designated only in limited numbers. The public stations were given a programmatic mandate, which comprised information, entertainment, and education. And they were obliged to provide a fair balance of content (internal pluralism).
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, founded on May 23, 1949, guarantees in Article 5 freedom of opinion as well as the freedom of the press, the freedom of broadcasting, and the freedom of film. Also guaranteed is freedom of information; censorship is forbidden. These liberties are restricted only by the general laws, especially by personal rights and the protection of youth.
According to the regulation of competences in the constitution, the federal states are responsible for creating the judicial basis for broadcasting. The central government has only to provide the technical infrastructure. By developing the broadcasting system, the federal states have agreed to regulate certain aspects of electronic media in a similar or common way in accordance with the Broadcasting Treaty (“Rundfunkstaatsvertrag”). An important role for media legislation and the media structure is fulfilled by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Germany has a well-developed press system. Most prevalent are – in accordance with the federal tradition – regional newspapers, covering larger areas. They are predominantly delivered on subscription. Typically, these newspapers possess a more or less large number of local editions. Apart from this, there are only a few newspapers with a nationwide circulation (such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt).
Also, the number of tabloid papers sold on the streets is limited. The biggest of them is Bild, at 3.5 million copies the newspaper with the largest circulation in Germany. In 2004, 138 independent “editorial units” (“Publizistische Einheiten”) – i.e., independent newspapers that produce local, national, and international news independently in all editorial areas – were published in Germany. These editorial units produced a combined total of 1,538 different editions. The total circulation of the daily press amounted to 21.5 million copies. The number of readers per 1,000 is about 315, a figure between those for countries with high and low newspaper circulations.
Radio And Television
For decades, an exclusively public broadcasting system existed in Germany. Initially after World War II there were six radio stations. The number increased to nine by the end of the 1950s. In 1960, two national broadcasting stations were established, too, one for West Germany and the GDR (Deutschlandfunk), and two foreign broadcast services (Deutsche Welle and Stimme der DDR).
In 1950, a consortium of public broadcasting stations (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten or ARD) was founded. On this basis television in the Federal Republic of Germany was built up. The regular start of the first channel followed on November 1, 1954. The broadcasting stations of the federal states contributed proportionally to the joint programming. In 1962, the federal states agreed to bring into being a joint second national TV station (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen or ZDF), which started to operate on April 1, 1963. Since that time a public duopoly has existed in German television. The ZDF is also organized by the principles of public control by a supervising board with representatives of several social and political groups, associations, and parties.
New technologies gave the starting signal for the dual broadcasting system in Germany. Today it consists of two pillars: the still powerful public broadcasting organizations and the numerous private program providers. ARD and ZDF broadcast one main TV program each and a common culture, children’s, and parliamentary channel. In addition both are also offering their own digital programs. Each of 11 broadcasting stations in the federal states possesses yet another TV channel. A joint venture by ARD and ZDF is DeutschlandRadio.
Besides the public sector there exists a multifaceted private broadcasting sector in Germany. The licenses are issued by a telecommunication agencies at the level of the federal states. These are also supervised advertising regulations and certain content requirements. Today, all in all more than 200 German radio programs and 30 German TV channels can be received. Nationwide operating radio stations have established themselves in part; however, there have also been attempts to introduce local radio stations.
Two big commercial TV organizations, RTL and SAT.1/ProSieben, emerged. In Germany RTL group (a member of the Bertelsmann group) owns, in addition to its main program channel, several other channels (RTL 2, Super RTL, Vox, and n-tv). The SAT.1/ProSieben media company owns the programs Sat.1, ProSieben, Kabel 1, and N24. This group constituted the core of the German media corporation of Leo Kirch, which went into insolvency in 2002. It was sold to American Haim Saban, who resold it in 2006 to other foreign investment groups. Apart from the full programs, there are also special news and sports channels.
A third pillar of the German TV system is pay-TV. Yet this format, due to the sheer size of the free TV market, has not managed to become widely accepted. The channel Premiere has been attempting since 1999, with a number of special interest programs (sports and movies), to gain ground in the pay-TV market and was listed at the stock exchange in 2005.
In the mid-1990s, the Internet was introduced in Germany for general use, and it expanded quickly. In 2006, 60 percent of the population used the Internet at least occasionally. Differences do still exist according to age. Nearly all young people go online, but only 20 percent of people over 60 years old.
Today, almost all German daily newspapers and numerous magazines are present on the Internet with their own websites. Yet in the beginning many publishing houses hesitated to go this way and did not invest too much, because they were afraid of “self-cannibalism.” Radio and television stations developed their websites, too, the private ones with a lot of additional material, whereas the public stations are restricted to giving only material complementing their programming. Newcomers in the field intend to offer IPTV (Internet Protocol TV).
Current Issues Of The German Media System
Since the middle of the 1950s there has been a growing tendency toward press concentration in Germany. Today, the 10 largest publishing houses are responsible for more than half of the total newspaper circulation. The degree of concentration is particularly high in the new federal states of former East Germany, since former party papers were sold to newspaper proprietors from West Germany. Apart from losing advertising to the Internet, German newspapers have also constantly lost readers, particularly among the younger generation. The total circulation of the German daily press has seen a gradual decline.
The radio and TV market is also facing substantial problems. The public broadcasting organizations are trying to defend their privilege of double-funding by license fees and advertising revenues, particularly against the policies of the European Union. Their regular demands to increase the fees have always been a political issue. The competition for attractive programs requires high expenditures. Further, some critics have accused the public broadcasting organizations of neglecting their quality program obligations by adapting to commercial programming (“convergence”). The private providers are totally dependent on advertising revenue, which they would like to monopolize for themselves. The ownership structures are also in flux. Ownership in commercial TV is limited by a maximum audience share of 30 percent.
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