In order to understand Germany’s media system, one has to know its history.
Many of its particularities are results of the countries moved past. Media history begins even before the German national state was constituted.
a first important landmark was the invention of the printing press with movable letters. Approximately around 1450 Johannes Gutenberg developed a machine that could print bibles in larger quantities, making them available for more and more people
In 1609 the first periodical newspaper “Aviso” was published, but it took nearly 200 years more until a serious press landscape developed in Germany. A necessary precondition was further technological progress, like the invention of the quick-printing press.
19th century more and more regular and daily newspapers were established, mostly “opinion press” or “party press”: media was strongly affiliated with certain parties or political fractions, like conservative, liberal and socialist press. By that time, according to Habermas, a “bourgeois public sphere”, emerged. We would call it today polarized pluralist: each paper very biased but together expressing broad pluralism. This general tendency continued until the Weimar Republic in the 1920s.
1819: since the press became more vivid and important, the ruling aristocrats agreed on censoring it
in 1848: however, after the March revolution press freedom was implemented in several constitutions across Germany
in 1871: the formerly scattered German countries are united to form the “German Empire” and national media started to grow for example major publishing houses were founded since 1870 like Ullstein Verlag, Scherl, Mosse
1914-1918 during WWI, press freedom was once again abolished by military censorship. However, technological development advanced quickly:
in 1917 the Universum Film AG (UFA), as first German film company is founded
in 1926: first radio broadcast was transmitted in Germany by Deutsche Welle AG) and in 1929 the first television was broadcast as well, but dark times approached as the Nazis seized power in 1933 and started with it a dark phase of media manipulation and instrumentalization. Under the term of “Gleichschaltung” (bringing into line), all media had to adapt to the Nazi ideology. Media was centralized and media companies and publishers were expropriated. Especially the radio (“volksempfänger” or “people’s receiver) and public weekly newsreels in cinema were heavily utilized for Nazi propaganda, spreading anti-semite hate-speech and justification of the war
1945: at the end of the WWII the huge task was to establish a democratic and pluralist media system, preventing abuses like during the Nazi era in the future, the allies vowed for a re-Education of the German population: newspapers had to be licensed and were subject to censorship after publication
1949: Germany is officially separated: this leads to completely different media systems. In the eastern GDR a heavily state-controlled media system was implemented, including party-press and censorship alike the soviet model.
Its main task was to serve as the “voice of the working class” and to educate citizens to “socialist personalities”
In western Germany, a federal public broadcasting service similar to the British bbc was introduced as well as a press System allowing only minimal interference by the state. While press products did not cross the border between the two states, East German citizens were able to receive West-German television (and vice-versa). This led to a subtle propaganda-war on both sides. However, it was West German radio and television which had a strong audience in East Germany.
In 1984: the dual system is introduced in Germany, meaning that for the first time private broadcasting is allowed. Technical progress like cable & later satellite TV made it possible to broadcast more channels, but in particular the pressure of market liberalization in the 1980s in Europe were the main reasons for this development.
In 1990 Germany was reunified: The east German media landscape was to be incorporated into the West German. State owned TV and radio channels are transformed into public broadcasters, many (regional) newspapers were sold by the reunification trust agency to West-German publishers and media companies. While the principal structure remained, there was a strong decline in east German newspaper circulation
Since 2000: new dynamics in press landscapes emergence. Online journalism leads to declining circulations and a downfall of the ad-sales. This development is coined as “Zeitungssterben” or “dying of the press”, but compared to the US the crisis is not as severe. However, it leads to a diversification of media formats, content and distribution and the emergence of new business models, cross-media formats, blogs and web formats.