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Rapid change in the media

Germany has a free media world characterised by an array of voices. Digitisation has triggered profound structural change.

© Thomas Imo/photothek

Freedom of the press and the media is guaranteed at a very high level in Germany, and is protected by the constitution. Article 5 of the Basic Law states: “Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. … There shall be no censorship.” The Press Freedom Index compiled by the NGO Reporter ohne Grenzen ranks Germany 12th of 180 countries in 2015. There is a diversity of opinions and a pluralism of information. The press is not controlled by governments or parties, as private-sector media corporations are respons­ible for it. The public broadcasters based on the British model (ARD, ZDF, Deutschlandfunk) as corporate bodies paid for from licensing fees and as public-sector entities are the second pillar of the media world, which rests on the dual principle of private and public-sector entities that has essentially remained unchanged since the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. As of 2015, the monthly license fee has been 17.50 euros. Since the 1980s, there has been a whole raft of private radio and TV broadcasters in the market, and in 2014 each household was able to receive on average 78 TV channels; in total, if one includes the numerous pay-TV offerings, there are over 400 channels. The most import­ant TV news programmes are Tagesschau 
and Tagesthemen, both on ARD, heute and heute journal on ZDF, and RTL aktuell. In Berlin alone, which is among the 10 top media cities worldwide, there are 900 accredited parliamentary correspondents and 400 foreign correspondents from 60 different countries on the ground.

The many different media voices include 329 daily newspapers, mainly distributed ­regionally, 20 weeklies, and 1,590 mass-market magazines (2014). After China, India, Japan and the USA, Germany is the fifth-largest newspaper market worldwide. Per publication day, 17.54 million dailies and five million weekly or Sunday papers are sold (2014). 
The leading nationwide newspapers are 
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, Die Zeit, taz and Handels­blatt, and all stand out for investig­ative research, analysis, background, and comprehensive commentary. News magazine Spiegel/Spiegel Online and the yellow-press publication Bild are considered the most-quoted media.

At the same time, the sector is undergoing a profound structural change. For the last 15 years, newspapers have been regularly losing on average 1.5-2 percent of their paid printed editions. They are increasingly rarely reaching younger readers and with circulation figures and advertising revenues dwindling are in difficult waters. Over 100 newspapers have responded to the free-for-view Internet by introducing pay-on-demand systems.

Digitisation of the media world, the Internet, the rampant growth in mobile handhelds, and the triumphs of the social media have significantly changed how the media are used. Today, 55.6 million Germans over the age of 14 (79 percent) are online. In 2014, every Internet user was online on 5.9 days of the week and spent about 166 minutes a day on the Internet; every second person surfed from a mobile handheld. Moreover, over half of all Internet users are members of a private community. The digital revolution has generated a new concept of the public sphere; the social media and the Bloggosphere mirror an open society of dialogue in which everyone can participate in the opinion-forming discourse. Whether the interactive Internet nodes where people gather also form the foundations for 
a viable future digital journalism remains to be seen. In Germany, for example, the progress of the online magazine Krautreporter, launched by crowdfunding in 2014, is being followed with bated breath.