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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

The Party and the Media

The Politburo of the SED ultimately decides what is printed, published, and produced by the mass media in order to ensure ideological and political uniformity and conformity. The SED Central Committee's Department of Agitation and Propaganda issues instructions to the editors of party and mass organization publications on appropriate news topics and how they should be treated; the department must ensure that the mass media carry out their assigned functions. Editors also receive directives on key campaigns, such as the Five-Year Plan, the National Front candidates during East German elections, military education in the schools, Soviet foreign policy initiatives, the deployment of United States missiles in Western Europe, and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Because the SED controls all aspects of public life, it can plan headlines in advance. Anniversaries are a typical case, particularly special anniversaries such as the establishment of the People's Police (Volkspolizei), the National People's Army, civil defense services, and border police. Similar considerations apply to historical events, such as the Russian Revolution, the Liberation (Befreiung) in 1945, the establishment of the East German state and the SED, the destruction of Dresden, and the erection of the Berlin Wall. Pre-planned congresses, the Leipzig Fair, visits by foreign politicians or by East German politicians abroad, Warsaw Pact force maneuvers, and the Soviet space program are standard topics for East German media consumers. The single most important subject covered is the economy and the current Five-Year Plan.

For the SED, newspapers are part of the campaign to build socialism and communism as defined by the SED leadership in consultation with the leadership of the CPSU. Thus, the SED not only attempts to "plan" the news but also to monopolize news sources. All international news, with minor exceptions, is channeled to the press from the country's sole news agency, Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst (ADN), which is under the direction of the Press Office of the chairman of the Council of Ministers. Most items in Neues Deutschland and in Der Morgen are credited to ADN.

Neues Deutschland, in keeping with its function as the organ of the SED and the leading daily newspaper of East Germany, is assigned the best facilities and is one of the few publications to send correspondents abroad. With a circulation of nearly 1 million, it serves as the most authoritative paper. The SED is also responsible for the leading district newspapers, such as the Leipziger Volkzeitung. Each of the other four smaller parties has a national daily. They are the BauernEcho (DBD), National-Zeitung (NDPD), Neue Zeit (CDU); and Der Morgen (LDPD). These newspapers are not widely known outside the parties they serve. Tribune, the organ of the FDGB, and Junge Welt, the daily of the FDJ, have much higher circulations than the publications of the four allied parties. The only significant SED-controlled dailies that are not official organs of parties or mass organizations are the Berliner Zeitung (BZ) and BZ am Abend.

The chief reason for maintaining such a relatively expensive news apparatus despite the uniformity and redundancy is the need to keep up appearances as a semipluralistic society, which is regarded as important for East Germany's influence abroad. Internally, these newspapers have their assigned segments of the population to influence, and the style and subject matter of the papers vary according to the segment of the population addressed. Like all key institutions, newspapers are given "plans" to fulfill. Non-SED party organs receive their plans and instructions from the aforementioned Press Office.

The relatively high rates of newspaper consumption and almost universal ownership of radios and television sets make the public media important instruments of social integration. There are 38 daily newspapers, having a total circulation of 8.3 million. Regional and national SED papers (including Neues Deutschland) account for about two-thirds of the total circulation. Junge Welt accounts for about 10 percent, and Tribune accounts for about 5 percent. Newspapers published by the 4 noncommunist parties amount to less than 5 percent of the total. In addition, there are more than 500 monthly magazines and weekly newspapers, ranging from Für dich, an illustrated women's weekly, to Einheit, a publication for party functionaries at all levels. Many periodicals focus on the special concerns of various professional groups.

After starting on an experimental basis in 1952, television was officially introduced in 1956 under the name Deutscher Fernsehfunk, which was changed in 1972 to Fernsehen der DDR in accordance with the SED policy of Abgrenzung. Because the SED regards all radio and television programs as politically significant, producers, directors, and editors are expected to bear in mind the ultimate purpose of their medium when creating their programs. The government operates two color television channels, which together offer nineteen to twenty hours of daily programming.

Since 1968 television has been under the control of the State Committee for Television of the Council of Ministers; an analogous committee administers radio. The chairmen and deputy chairmen of these committees are appointed by the chairman of the Council of Ministers. Other members are appointed by the chairmen of the respective committees. Heinrich Adamek, who has served as chairman of the State Committee for Television since its inception, is a member of the SED Central Committee.

The SED is keenly interested in using radio to influence people abroad and uses Voice of the GDR (Stimme der DDR), directed at German speakers outside East Germany, and Radio Berlin International, which broadcasts in numerous foreign languages, for this purpose. External consumers receive news of the world communist movement, East Germany and its politics and policies, and an SED view of world developments.

The authorities restrict the influx of Western publications, which are available only to government, party, economic, and educational institutions. Publications from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are freely permitted but rarely purchased. The electronic media are a different matter. Largely because of the central location of West Berlin transmitters, West German radio and television are received in East Germany, except for the southern mountain regions. Intershops carry decoder attachments required for clear reception of color broadcasts. As a practical matter, it is not possible to prohibit viewing of Western television, not the least because it is a prime source of news and entertainment for the government elite, who are also avid viewers of internationally syndicated United States programs, which are shown with German-language dubbing by West Berlin stations.

Television thus promotes awareness of the higher standard of living in West Germany and provides divergent perspectives on world events. Public surveys have shown that East Germans are considerably more familiar with West German politicians than their own leaders. Since the mid-1970s, Western television has become an increasingly important source of news about political and economic conditions in East Germany itself. In late 1971, when Western television journalists were first regularly permitted in East Germany, they gained quick recognition. Some were even approached on the street by East German citizens and asked to do reports on specific issues.

The penetration of Western media places a special burden on SED officials. Both the domestic electronic and the printed media continue to practice censorship. Certain kinds of economic, social, and military data are not disseminated, and no statements directly critical of either East German or Soviet leaders are permitted. At the same time, many sensitive topics are covered, if only in response to Western television broadcasts. East German television thus has gradually moved in the direction of more candid, if still biased, reporting. East German television journalists correctly perceive they are competing for the attention of East German viewers, and efforts to develop more interesting reporting styles and to be responsive to public opinion have become a source of professional pride.

Data as of July 1987

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