The German Media System – full Script (en)


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.






Germany is the 4th biggest economy in the world with a per Capita GDP more than 45.000 USD per year.
With such a high purchasing power in mind, it seems only natural that most of the privately owned media is financed through ad-sales. Television and daily newspapers generate the most income in advertising media.
This has different implications: privately owned TV-channels rely almost exclusively on ad-sales, therefore above all depend on good ratings.
This causes constant discussions about quality and ethics of private TV-programming.

Newspapers generate on average 40% through ad-sales and around 60% through subscription and copy sales.
The dependency on ad-sales is less than compared to private broadcasting, but since the press’ normative claim of spreading political information to the public, this relationship can still be problematic.
As revenues increase with a higher circulation, but production costs remain nearly the same, the ad-financed system favors press-concentration and monopolization.

Another relating problem is the possible influence of ad-clients on newspaper content.
Through increasing financial pressure, many journalists are tempted to blur the borders between advertisements and articles or sometimes articles are only published because they synergize with an ad in order to please the client.

S: Public Service Broadcasting
To avoid this problem for public broadcasters, they are financed by a fee every German household has to pay.
From approx. 18€ per household per month, all the different public service broadcasters like ARD, Deutschlandradio or arte are financed.

The KEF, a commission whose members are appointed from the prime ministers of each federal state calculate this fee, which is constantly disputed and subject to court proceedings.
S: Detailed Distribution of the Broadcasting Fee
However, up to now, the fee which makes up most of the budget of the 9.1 billion Euro (and is the highest budget of a non-commercial media company world-wide) the public service broadcaster has been secured.
Public service broadcasters are only allowed to include advertisement or product placement for certain events like football games or during specific time frames of the day.

S: Circulation of Daily Newspapers 1991-2014 in Million Copies
Circulations of the traditional print-products are decreasing and so do the ad-revenues.
For this reason many think that the future lies in different financing models.
Today, there is another big question to be answered: How to finance Online-Media?

S: Ad Revenues in different Media
Online offers of Germany’s newspapers have been traditionally free of charge for users, but the ad-sales do not generate nearly as much as their print-counterparts.
The reason for this is that online-ads are much cheaper, but the editorial effort remains the same.
Through the creation of online news-portals, many publishers created competitors for their own traditional press-titles.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Klaus Beck (Professor for Media Economics at Freie Universität Berlin):
Q: Online-Journalism is getting more and more popular. Why is it so difficult financing it?
First thing to say is: Maybe there are successful because they are free.
So people are not willing to pay for them.
That’s a great problem for professional journalism financing.
And the appropriate way to finance quality journalism for a long time was advertising.
But advertising isn’t working very well in the online sphere because advertising is very, very cheap and the reason for that is that everybody knows that advertising has only limited effects.
That’s true for television and broadcasting media and print papers as well.
But now we have the opportunity to measure that.
We know exactly that it’s not working very well.
That’s why the prices are so low. And that’s the problem to get enough advertising money for that.

Q: What about different financing models like crowdfunding?
I think the crowdfunding platforms have to face one problem, because they very much depend on the success of a specific news or article or contribution.
And so if they would like to get more money, they have to select the pieces which are selling very well.
And for the journalistic side, it’s a problem because it means a kind of marketing effect.
So I have to write in a way, in a manner, that is good for selling this article and maybe it’s still independent but that’s not so clear.
So you very much depend on the concrete payment.

Q: Especially Axel Springer is pushing forward a paid-content-model. Will it be successful?
Probably yes.
Because I think even though advertising is not the real way to finance quality journalism, all the users have to learn that they have to pay for journalistic content as they did some years, some hundred years before since the foundation of the printed press.
And paid content probably would be the model of success for the future.





We hope that our film helped you to learn more about the German media system. Of course, there is lots more to explore and to learn about. You are invited to check the literature references which are provided to you on our digital platform to deepen your knowledge. And you may want to test your knowledge in one of the quizzes provided.

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