Media Landscapes

Germany

Written by Hans J. Kleinsteuber, Barbara Thomass

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Germany is the country located very much in the centre of the continent, in the “heart of Europe” some may say. In terms of population and economic strength it is the largest state West of Russia on the continent. About 82.2 million people live (2008) in Germany where 35 million households have at least one TV set. About 10 percent of the population is foreign and another 10 percent has roots outside of Germany. The language is German and together with Austria and the German-speaking part of Switzerland about 100 million people make up a German language area, constituting a rather large market. It is the largest language space inside the European Union, and some of the television in Austria and Switzerland is provided by German companies.

Germany looks back at a long history of mass media. Some of the first newspapers started here roughly 400 years ago. During the years of the Nazi domain the mass media had become a tool of the dictatorship. In 1945 the media experienced an "hour zero" and started nearly completely anew. The post-war media system was based on the principle of press freedom as stipulated in the Basic Law (constitution) of 1949.

Until 1990 Germany was a divided country. The media system of the former GDR was highly centralised and worked under the control of the Communist Party. It disappeared during the process of unification, but patterns of media usage still differ between East and West. Today, the major media production centres are located in the “old” West, newspapers of the former GDR are usually controlled by Western companies, broadcasting is integrated into the Western dual system.

Germany has a "dual system" of both public and commercial broadcasting (in fact, if you include community media it is a trial system). In public broadcasting the Länder (states) have a strong role. The German Federal Constitution stipulates that the sole responsibility for broadcasting rests with the Länder of the Federal Republic as part of their "cultural sovereignty". Because of this, the public service broadcasters are a creation of the Länder that act individually ore jointly (in agreements). The exception is the broadcaster Deutsche Welle, based on federal legislation, designed to provide services (radio, TV, online) to foreign countries only.

The traditional public service broadcaster is set up as an independent and non-commercial organisation, financed primarily by licence fees. The public service broadcasting organisation (Anstalt) in Germany resembles to some extent the BBC system. The typical Anstalt provides a region, usually a Land, with public service radio and television. NDR is the joint corporation for the four Northern Länder (Schleswig Holstein, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). Because of the de-centralised character, there are many media centres in the country, e. g. Hamburg (NDR), Cologne (WDR), Munich (BR), Berlin-Potsdam (rbb).

The organisational and legal structure of broadcasting corporations is defined in Länder laws and, if more than one state is involved, in agreements between several or all Länder. A basic agreement of all Länder (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag) defines the general broadcasting situation, as far as both, the public and the commercial sectors are concerned.

Supervisory councils are important in both the public and private sector. All broadcasting corporations are governed by an independent Broadcasting Council (Rundfunkrat), whose representatives are supposed to reflect the ”socially relevant groups” of society, according to a Federal Constitutional Court's ruling. With the advent of commercial broadcasting, all Länder drafted media laws (besides the existing broadcasting laws) in the 1980s. These laws specifically regulate the electronic media outside the conventional public corporations, mainly by handing out commercial radio and TV licences, and deciding what programmes may be fed into cable systems. For this purpose new supervisory bodies (Landesmedienanstalten) were created, each with a council, resembling those of the public broadcasters. All in all 14 such bodies are active in 2009. Because of the strong federal element some TV and most of radio is regional or even local.

The German press is characterised by a large number of titles. In 2008 the number of "independent editorial units" (meaning full publishing entities that produce all parts of a newspaper) for daily newspapers in Germany was 135, and the number of newspapers 354. If local editions of all papers are included, there are 1,512 different newspapers. Since the early 1990s, the number and circulation of newspapers in Germany have shown signs of decline. The penetration of daily newspapers has fallen from 79.1 percent to 72.4 percent in 2008.

The local and regional newspaper market is strong and important in Germany. In 2008, total newspaper circulation stood at 20.2 million, most of which is subscription press as opposed to tabloid press or "boulevard press", as it is often is often referred to in Germany. 95 percent of the subscription press claims to be local, with a circulation of 14.3 million. There is only a small number of national newspapers: BILD, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Welt, Frankfurter Rundschau (FR), Tageszeitung (Taz). They claim to be independent and "above parties", but most cover a liberal and conservative spectrum. In terms of circulation figures, the national newspapers account for 1.65 million. Another 4.47 million papers are sold on the street. The top-selling German tabloid paper is BILD Zeitung, with a circulation of 3.3 million, it is also the best selling paper of Europe.

The German magazine sector is extremely buoyant with some 906 general magazines (circulation ca. 117.9 million copies) and 1,218 specialised periodicals (ca. 13.6 million) currently on the market. A weekly news magazine, modelled after the American Time Magazine and for long time with a virtual monopoly in its market is Der Spiegel (ca. 1.07 million). With its investigative style of journalism, it represents the most influential political publication in Germany.

The press is characterized by a high but decreasing dependency on advertising income and a significant degree of economic concentration. The German market for daily newspapers is dominated by a small number of publishers. The largest market share is controlled by the Axel Springer Group with around 22.1 percent of the market (BILD, Welt, Hamburger Abendblatt, Berliner Morgenpost, etc.) The second position is taken by Verlagsgruppe Stuttgarter Zeitung, which is more a regional publisher with nearly 8.5 percent of the market. The third place is occupied by the WAZ Group (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung etc. - 6 percent) and DuMont Schauberg in Cologne (4.2 percent). The Ippen Gruppe takes the fifth place with 4 percent. The 10 largest publishers of dailies together control 44.8 percent of the market. The four largest magazine publishers Bauer, Springer, Burda, Gruner + Jahr (mainly Bertelsmann) cover about 60 percent of the market.

Another type of publication, which became popular after 1945, is the weekly newspaper. It presents less actual news and more analysis and background information. The most successful and important is Die Zeit (ca. 525,000), a liberal and independent paper.

Radio is a popular medium in Germany, daily consumption is 176 minutes (2008), of which slightly more than a half comes from public service broadcasters. They usually offer a number – around six – of programmes on a regional basis, sometimes with local limitations, concentrating on general audiences as well as special target groups (culture, news, youth etc.) In addition there are two national radio programmes, based in Berlin (Deutschlandradio Kultur) and Cologne (Deutschlandfunk, mainly news) with public funding, based on another Länder-level agreement.

Commercial radio is licensed in all L änder-states, therefore it follows mostly a regional pattern. There are no national broadcasters, but some that are active in several Länder (NRJ for youth, Klassik Radio). In two Southern Länder local commercial radio is the rule. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the largest state, 46 local stations work commercially but with local, non-commercial windows. Non-commercial radio exists but is regulated differently in each state. Some states allow community stations, others prefer public access (also for television), educational stations, campus stations etc. One Land has no activities at all. All in all, the situation is extremely diverse.

Germans spend about 219 minutes per day on television, split about evenly between public and commercial programmers. All regional public broadcasters commonly founded the ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Rundfunkanstalten Deutschlands) regulatory body, and contribute according to their size to the nation-wide TV channel “Das Erste” (the first and oldest TV programme). In addition they each independently organize a regional programme (III Programme) that offers regional content and more culturally and educationally oriented programming.

The Second German Television ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) is based on an agreement of all Länder (ZDF-Staatsvertrag) and is located in Mainz. ARD and ZDF jointly offer a number of specialized programmes: Arte (together with France), 3Sat (together with Austria and Switzerland), Kika (for children), and Phoenix (events and documentation).

Today German commercial television is controlled by two media groups calling themselves "Senderfamilien" (broadcaster families). One, formerly owned by Leo Kirch, is named ProSiebenSAT.1Media AG and consists of Sat 1, Pro 7, N24, Kabel 1 and 9live and others (market share 2008: 21.6 percent). In 2006 it was acquired by the Anglo-American investment funds Permira and Kohlberg, Kravis & Co. (KKR) and took over the SBS activities of these funds in ten other European countries.

The other family is controlled by the German giant Bertelsmann, the largest media company outside of the US and a global player (largest bookseller in the world): RTL Group S.A. owns TV channels in about a dozen European countries. In Germany the family includes RTL, RTL II, Super RTL, VOX, n-tv. (market share 2008: 24.1 percent) Many more programmes were offered in 2009, some of them independently-owned special-interest channels, while others are subsidiaries of international conglomerates such as Viacom, Disney, or NBC Universal. In large cities such as Berlin, Hamburg etc. regional commercial TV has been established. Germany has an above-average percentage of cable households; 18.66 of 34.99 million households, another 14.93 receive their signal via satellite. leaving only a small share for terrestrial reception.

The market share of all public service broadcasters in television is at 43.6 percent, of which ARD has a market share of 13,4 percent, ZDF 13.1 percent, the third channels 13.2 percent. Among the private channels RTL (11.7 percent), SAT1 (10.3 percent) and ProSieben (6.6 percent) have the biggest audience shares. The television advertising market participates in the whole advertising market with a share of 43.7 percent; the radio advertising share is 6.2 percent. (print: 46 percent)

The only pay-TV company Premiere had been founded by Leo Kirch and went bankrupt. It was recently taken over by Rupert Murdoch and in 2009 it was renamed Sky and integrated into Murdoch´s European Sky empire. Compared to other European countries pay-TV is not very successful, due to the many freely accessible channels. In 2009 about 2.4 million viewers subscribed to Sky.

The first film was shown in Germany by the Skladanowsky brothers in Berlin in 1895. The German film industry had its best time after Word War I (Fritz Lang, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau); the Nazis used film as a propaganda tool. After 1945 heavy competition from Hollywood limited the German market, where only 20 to 27 percent of actually seen films are of German origin. In 2008 there were about 1,793 film theaters with about 4,810 screens. The average German visits a cinema 1.58 times per year.

Germany maintains a multilevel system of film subsidies. On the federal level, the German Film Board (Filmförderungsanstalt) provided (in 2008) about 45 million euro, mostly money that was collected from the cinema owners and the video distributors. An agreement between the film and the television industry provides additional funding, altogether about 28 million euro.

On the Länder level there are more institutions for film support, usually they are connected to the requirement of using their locations. For many film productions funding is provided from different levels, including also European money.

The regulatory body for all matters of telecom including the non-mass media side of online services is the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur).

The largest company in this field is Deutsche Telekom, formerly the state administration for telephony and still partly owned by the federal government. It has entered the market of Internet TV, but so far the resonance is limited: its subsidiary T-Home entertain provides IPTV for about 700,000 subscribers (2009).

In 2009 about 67.1 percent of all Germans were using online services, more than 70 percent of them use a broadband line. Online is an established medium and is especially popular among young people; 97.5 percent of those in the age range of 14 to 19 use it regularly. Among all Internet users about half of them report that they use the Net for up-to-date information. The demand for online video content is also marking a significant growth with more than 62 percent of all onliners using moving images online (28 percent in 2006). All major media in print and broadcasting maintain an online website, the most successful in news is Spiegel-online.

Germany is on the way to digitalisation. Most terrestrial TV is digitalized (DVB-T) and Berlin was the first city worldwide to switch off analogue transmission. All major broadcasters offer additional programmes. The public broadcasters, based on their huge programme library and time shifting, offer six additional programmes. The commercial companies produce specialized programmes as well, mostly for digital packages.

Digital radio was first introduced in 1999 and the country is covered by a network of DAB transmitters. DW also offers short wave programming in DRM. The echo to digital radio was minimal, though, and some services have been terminated.

Eight agencies are one the market, which have certain relevance. The dominating, internationally active agency is Deutsche Presseagentur (DPA). As nearly all newspapers are subscribers of DPA, it can be regarded as the primary source, whereas the other news agencies are complementary sources. Its business model was recently questioned in 2009, with biggest regional newspaper WAZ cancelling its DPA subscription. Other press companies are also speculating on following this example.

The US-American Associated Press (AP), the German Reuters, which is a complete subsidiary company of the British Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP) are ranking on the second, third and fourth place in the German market.

The journalists’ and employers’ organisations have a clear structure. On the journalists side there are two major organisations. The German Journalists Association (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, DJV), calling itself a "trade union" but being in fact a professional organisation. The other one is the German Journalists Union (Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union, DJU), part of Verdi, a service workers’ and clerks' trade union, that is in turn a member of the German Trade Federation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB).

On the employers’ side, the owners of the daily press are organised in the Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger (BDZV) and the magazine press is represented by the Verband Deutscher Zeitschriftenverleger (VDZ). The commercial radio and television industry co-operates in the Verband Privater Rundfunk und Telekommunikation (VPRT).

There is not a strong tradition of media related NGOs. Media issues are dealt with within the political foundations of the parties. Media research is hosted by a vast variety of institutions, eg university-based institutes, media research divisions of both public and commercial broadcasters, and independent research institutes such as GfK and Nielsen Media Research

The market of film production in Germany is concentrated around three main studio centres which are located in Munich (Bavaria Atelierbetriebsgesellschaft), Hamburg (Studio Hamburg), and Berlin/Potsdam (Studio Babelsberg). In Cologne, a new film and television production complex (Magic Media Company) had been promoted with the support of the regional government. Beside those, the landscape of media outlets is quite scattered.

Middle ranged production outlets resulted from former cinema productions, developed as such in the sixties, when public television became more and more important as a demander of films. These outlets developed further with the emergence of commercial television. There are a lot of small outlets existing, as a study showed that nearly 80 percent of production outlets, which are involved in new feature films, produced only one film in total (Clevé 1995).

Media legislation in Germany is following the general principle of federalism and is in the hand of the regions (Länder). This means, that all nationwide media laws have to be settled by an agreement between the different Länder. This is especially true for broadcasting laws, which are elaborated as so called interstate treaties (Rundfunkstaatsverträge).

The recent Rundfunkstaatsvertrag reflects the compromise which had been dealt with the EU commission, concerning the complaints of commercial broadcasters with respect to Internet activities of the public broadcasters. The obligation to scrutinise new digital services and online offers to a so called Three Step Test – similar to the Public Value Test in the UK – is the core element of the 12th interstate treaty.

Press laws are made on the Länder-level as well. Although there had been several attempts to pass a framing law for all regional press laws, this had never happened.

The over all arching influence on media legislation stems from the constitutional court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) which played a strong role in elaborating the pillars of the broadcasting system in Germany. While broadcasting legislation is oriented more to the common good and the needs of the public sphere – although it has to comply more and more to the EU requirements of competition laws – legislation for press and online media is orientated solely to the market model of competition. Special legislation is made to protect individual rights of privacy.

Hard efforts are made, to deal with the challenges of Internet misuse and crime. One step in this respect was the suggestion to close down web pages containing pornography with children, but the respective draft law did not find the acceptance of all parties involved until now.

The German Press Council (Deutscher Presserat) established in 1956, consists of an equal number of representatives from the journalists’ organisations and the publishers’ organisations (20 in total). Members of the general public may appeal directly to the Council. If the Council supports the complaint, the respective newspaper is expected to publish the Council’s ruling. The decisions are taken on the base of a Press Codex which is regularly renewed according to the recent journalism developments. The effect of this self-regulation is limited, especially in relation to the practices of the "boulevard press".

The German Advertisement Council (Deutscher Werberat) is a similar organization, consisting of approximately 10 to 12 representatives from the advertising industry, the media and the advertisement agencies. They publish their decisions on complaints in a handbook. Complaints against the public service broadcasting may be brought to the members of the Broadcast Councils. In the commercial broadcasting media all television companies are obliged to employ a Commissioner for Youth Protection (Jugendschutzbeauftragter) that reports only to the company.

Some media, especially newspapers, have special media sections, which contribute to more transparency for the audiences, but which are not strong in media criticism. Journalists’ organisations as Netzwerk Recherche (Network for investigative journalism) are trying to improve quality of journalism.

Media freedom and freedom of expression are guaranteed in Germany within the Constitution (Grundgesetz, Art.5). Due to the strong federalism of Germany there is a variety of actors on different levels. The central actors in the German audiovisual media policy are the political parties, especially the Länder organisations of the two large parties, the conservative CDU and the social democratic SPD which control much of the public broadcasting sector.

After years of strong polarisation from the 1950s to the 1970s, media policy is now again based on a broad consensus between the Länder. In an agreement between all Länder, the basics of a "dual system" of broadcasting have been put in place. It includes regulation for media concentration, stating that one company cannot control more than 30 percent of all TV ratings. The high degree of media concentration, especially the two "Senderfamilien", is causing concern.

The update of the Länder agreement, the Rundfunkstaatsvertrag, includes the provisions of the EU television directive, especially the provision stating that important events, such as the Olympic Games, should be broadcast for free. The EU-wide Product placement permission (AVMS 2007) was introduced at the end of 2009.

In recent times, debates about the future of German public service broadcasting are more and more influenced by decisions and challenges of the EU. State subsidies do exist neither within the print sector nor in the electronic media, although special aids as a reduced valued added tax rate and reduced prices for distributing print products via mail serve as a state generated support for the press.

Journalism education in Germany is possible in several ways. The classical way is a two-year internship within a newspaper or a magazine, which is completed by additional courses within a journalist’s academy, where further education takes place as well. The biggest one is the Akademie für Publizistik in Hamburg.

Several universities offer journalism studies degrees (Hamburg, Dortmund, Eichstätt among others). Journalism education is also offered in independent journalism schools (Munich), and in those which are owned by media outlets (i.e. Gruner & Jahr). With the growing amount of commercial media outlets and the increasing importance of online journalism, the landscape of journalism is more and more scattered, and the degree of education among journalists is varying heavily.

  • Altendorfer, Otto: Das Mediensystem der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 2 Vol. Wiesbaden: VS 2001/2004.
  • Dreier, Hardy: Das Mediensystem der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. In: Hans-Bredow-Institut, Ed.: Internationales Handbuch Medien 2009. Baden-Baden: Nomos 2009, pp. 257-272.
  • Kleinsteuber, Hans J.: Germany. In: Mary Kelly/Gianpietro Mazzoleni/Denis McQuail, Eds.: The Media in Europe. London : Sage 2004, pp. 78-90.
  • Kleinsteuber, Hans J./Thomass, Barbara: The German Media Landscape. In: Georgios Terzis (ed.): European Media Governance. National and Regional Dimensions. Bristol: Intellect 2007, pp. 111-123.
  • Media Perspektiven, Basisdaten. Daten zur Mediensituation in Deutschland. (annually)
  • Meyn, Hermann: Massenmedien in Deutschland. Konstanz: UVK 2004.

Media and Journalism studies

One of the most important events in German media development was the announcement of the sale of ProSiebenSat.1 to Springer, but this merger was prohibited by both media regulation and the anti-trust authorities. Subsequently, the company was purchased by international capital investors KKR and Permira.

Another important announcement was made by leading media actors Astra (for satellites), RTL and ProSiebenSat.1 that they intended to introduce general encryption of digital programs by 2007. This would have forced all viewers to invest in a digital decoder and buy a smart card (for a few euro so far) and would have allowed for additional programming, pay-TV and new interactive features. Yet, this strategy has met with strong objections from the anti-trust authority as well.

  • Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Landesmedienanstalten (ALM): Privater Rundfunk in Deutschland. Berlin: vistas, published annually.
  • Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Rundfunkanstalten Deutschlands (ARD): ARD-Jahrbuch. Hamburg: Hans-Bredow-Institut, published annually.
  • Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger (BDZV): Jahrbuch Zeitungen. Berlin: ZV, published annually. www.bdzv.de (newspaper editors association)
  • Clevé, Bastian (1995): Der Filmbetrieb in Deutschland. In: Handbuch Kultur und Medien.
  • Verband Deutscher Zeitschriftenverleger, www.vdz.de (Magazine Editors Association)

Barbara Thomass
Professor
Institute for Media Studies, Bochum University
Universitätsstraße 150
44780 Bochum
Tel: +49 (0) 234 - 32-24761
Email: Barbara.Thomass@rub.de
Website