After the Second World War, all mass media (including German radio stations) were controlled by the allied forces until West Germany established a new media infrastructure. Between 1948 and 1950, numerous German radio stations emerged to form a new media landscape. Even today, these German radio and TV broadcasters define their own responsibilities as providing the German public with basic news coverage and well-balanced information. Germany’s public media corporations are supervised by broadcasting councils (Rundfunkräte), whose regulations may vary from state to state. These are composed of representatives from various social groups, including political parties and Christian churches. They elect and advise their directors and set the general guidelines all German radio and TV stations have to adhere to.
It was not until the 1980s that private media emerged in Germany and commercial television stations started broadcasting. Until then, the German radio and TV landscape was dominated by public broadcasters. All media in Germany must comply with basic standards and provide truthful information. A certain range of opinions has to be guaranteed in Germany’s media, and they must not be dominated by one political bias.
Although commercial TV channels are very popular, the standard and tone of these broadcasting stations is often subject to debate. According to media critics, commercial channels are trivializing and anti-intellectual, and public stations then tend to lower their own standards accordingly. However, there are still significant differences between the two.
For example, the eight o’clock news on the first public broadcasting station (ARD) is still the most popular television news of the day, with an average of 5 million viewers. It is also seen as having the highest journalistic standards of all TV news. With regard to political coverage, public broadcasting clearly has an advantage over commercial stations. On the other hand, entertainment such as game shows, soap operas, TV series, and blockbuster movies is the domain of private media. Public and commercial media are still competing over the coverage of big international sports events.
There are a total of nine broadcasting corporations belonging to the state-funded network. The most well-known are definitely the two major TV channels, ARD and ZDF, which can be received nationwide. However, German radio and TV also strongly focuses on regional content: A variety of regional broadcasting stations cater to audiences in different parts of Germany with news and documentaries on local life. Germany’s biggest private broadcasters such as RTL, SAT1 and Pro7, however, often belong to some of the most influential European entertainment networks and primarily aim to cater to the 14-49 year olds – the main target audience for advertising.
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