Television is by far the most used and widest spread media in Germany and is therefore particularly important. TV doesn’t only serve entertainment purposes; most of the Germans use it also for political education and for information. The German broadcasting is characterized by a dualistic system: a public broadcasting service on the one hand, and private broadcasters on the other hand. Until 1984, private broadcasting wasn’t allowed. Therefore the mission of the public broadcasters is to provide a full program, consisting of a mix of entertainment, information and education. The broadcasting mandate also requires to offer a “basic supply” of information and to offer a pluralistic range of views.
Interview: Prof. Dr. Jan Tonnemacher (Professor for Media Studies at Freie Universität Berlin):
The first or core principle of the founding fathers of the German broadcasting system was to give broadcasting freedom from government influence. The second, driven by the same experiences, was decentralization and division of powers which is normal as a basis for democracy. In both totalitarian regimes, radio and television were centralized under the power of the government and the parties.
The solution was – for the newly funded Federal Republic of Germany – cultural sovereignty of the states, not of Germany as a total. They found this better and included responsibility for the mass media.
Thirdly, there should be public funding for public broadcasting. But the money should not be raised by a state tax. Every household is responsible for public broadcasting by paying a monthly fee. So that gives independence as well. And the fourth principle: obligation of public broadcasting to offer a diversity of programs for all with program variety, one could say, possibly serving all needs in the best possible way.
Q: What are advantages and disadvantages of the German public broadcasting system?
To have an autonomous public broadcasting service. Being independent from the government and from economic powers as well. Offering quality programs which are better for information. Furthering investigative journalism, adding to form public opinion/s with education and entertainment. Plus, functioning as a controlling institution for the economic and political powers in Germany.
But I would as well see major disadvantages: A weakness in the construction of the broadcasting councils, the regulating boards. A council consists of members of a number of different societal, social relevant groups and among others but with heavy weight – the political parties. So independence from government is rather secured but not from the political parties. There representatives are more or less dominant in many boards of the broadcasting stations.
Secondly, the corporations ARD and ZDF partly tend to follow the run for viewer shares, the quota, in order to compete with commercial television. This results maybe in a tendency of assimilation, at least for parts of the program, mostly in the prime time. But looking for mass attractive entertainment programs is not the solution for the competition with the private commercial televisions.
They should think of their advantages.
Private television exists in Germany since 1984. Today, private channels hold a market share around 45%. The market is basically divided between only two companies: one is Bertelsmann and the other one is the ProSiebenSat1 AG. Since the beginning, private broadcasters are criticized for offering lower quality content and focus on (light) entertainment.
In general, the share of informational and news programs is lower than the ones of the public broadcasters and the coverage focuses more on scandals than on political issues. However, they are obliged by law to incorporate news in their program if they wish to broadcast nationally. Furthermore, there is a growing convergence between the content of both public and private broadcasters.
Germany is characterized by its wide-spread regional press. People from Berlin tend to read papers from Berlin, people from Munich tend to read papers from Munich and so on. Even national newspapers specific regional parts in order to be more attractive to readers. Altogether, regional dailies reach nearly 50% of the population. However, due to advancing press concentration, in over half of the administration districts only one regional newspaper is available – which is problematic in terms of diversity.
The most widely spread daily newspaper is the tabloid “BILD” owned by Axel Springer publishing house. Due to its enormous reach of over 12 Mio readers, BILD is regarded as a political actor itself. It has been involved in the rise and fall of several politicians including president Christian Wulff. Like other tabloids, BILD has often been criticized for neglecting journalistic ethics. Politically, BILD is rather conservative. In its guidelines it demands from its journalists to hold solidarity with Israel, support the transatlantic alliance with the US and to defend the social market economy.
National high quality dailies do not have such a high reach in terms of sold copies, but nevertheless they have a high political influence and are seen as opinion leaders.Several newspapers differ in their political tendencies.
The most important ones are the Munich based “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, which is more liberal, and the Frankfurt-based “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” which is more conservative. Each of them sells about 400.000 copies per day.
The Berlin-based “taz” is a leftist daily which is owned by a cooperative – unique in the German media landscape.
The “Handelsblatt”, based in Düsseldorf, which is the biggest newspaper with a focus on the economy is also important.
Also weekly political magazines like “Der Spiegel”, “die Zeit” and “der Stern” are very influential in the German public sphere. They formed the liberal “Hamburg-Cartel” of post war Germany.
In times of declining newspaper circulation, weeklies gather more popularity since they offer in-depths analyses that are rarely to be found in online journalism.
Online journalism is still far behind the traditional sources of information, but is getting more and more important. In 2013, 60% of the Germans used the internet as a source for political information. The most visited news sites are “Bild.de”, “Focus Online” and “Spiegel online” and “Zeit online”.
It is noticeable that these are the online versions of traditional newspapers. Despite having often separate editorial departments, the online versions still rely heavily on print journalism in terms of content and financing. However, websites like “Huffington Post” and “and “Vice” which produce primarily online content and are quite successful with it.
Axel Springer recently reorganized its prestigious press title “Die Welt” into an online pay-to-read news platform, which only secondarily releases a print version. Advancing digitalization and different forms of financing make it seem likely that the internet will overtake traditional print journalism one day as a major news source.