By Gene Mater
In less than
a lifetime, the German media moved from one of the most restricted
in the world to one of the most open. The media played a key role
throughout. This is the story of a nation becoming free:
state must not ... let itself be confused by the drivel about
so-called freedom of the press .. it must make sure of this instrument
of popular education and place it in the service of the state.
Hitler in Mein Kampf
begins to disappear in Germany in 1932, the year before Adolf
Hitler takes power. By 1933, the Nazis decree the virtual end
of a free press. The government turns editors and journalists
into servants of the state. Bureaucrats decide what may be published.
Publishers cant hire or fire journalists. Only the government
slash the number of daily newspapers from 2,500 in 1933 to 1,500
in 1937. That makes them easier to control. Then, because of the
war, the number is cut again to 800 by 1943.
Nazi newspapers are the Voelkischer Beobachter, the official
party organ started in 1920; Der Stuermer, a lurid and
frequently pornographic anti-Jewish weekly publication; and Der
Angriff, the daily Labor Front mouthpiece of Joseph Goebbels,
German minister of propaganda.
has run German radio since it started in the 1920s, so the Nazis
easily take over, using radio to "re-educate" the German
people. Much of the broadcast day is centrally controlled, covering
news, political talks, communiqués, music and entertainment,
with some features of local interest.
minister Goebbels: "With the instrument of radio you can
make public opinion. Perhaps even conquer a country."
Clash of ideology
was the desire of Military Government to restore press and radio
to German hands as rapidly as constitutions and laws guaranteed
their freedom... Perhaps in no other field except school reform
was the German inability truly to understand democratic freedoms
better illustrated. It seemed impossible to secure legislation
which would not leave the press at the mercy of the government
-- Gen. Lucius
D. Clay, U.S. Military Governor, Germany, 1945-49
In May 1945,
as World War II ends, the four Allied Powers the U.S.,
Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, each with an occupation
zone -- prohibit all means of public communication, information
and entertainment "except as directed or otherwise authorized."
magazines, movie house, theaters -- even circuses -- are shut
down until licensed by Military Government.
begin licensing newspapers and other means of communication in
their individual occupation zones but the approaches vary. As
the militarys grip loosens, a free press system is established
in West Germany. But in the Soviet Zone, media are forced into
a Communist system of state and single party control.
versus controlled-media positions harden quickly. In February
1946, the Unites States starts a German-operated radio station
in West Berlin that for years is symbolic of the two systems.
Called "Radio in the American Sector" and better known
as RIAS, the station is for many years the primary source of news
and information not only for West Berlin but also for the truth-starved
population of East Berlin.
is a capitalist island in the Soviet sea of East Germany, and
in 1948, the communists try to starve it out of existence, starting
a blockade of supplies into the city. The western Allies begin
the famous airlift, flying a daily average of 8,000 tons of food
and other necessities of life to the 2.5 million residents of
West Berlin. The airlift works. In May 1949, the blockade is lifted.
between East and West Germany become more pronounced. More than
3 million people from the east flee to the west. East German attempts
to stop the flow fail.
On Aug. 13,
1961, the East German government start construction of a 27-mile
long wall across the city. Initially built of barbed wire and
bricked-up buildings, the wall goes through various phases of
construction, eventually becoming a 12-foot-high structure, with
a rounded top to prevent people from climbing over. It features
a barbed wire "death strip" with mines, overseen by
300 watchtowers manned by armed guards.
It is the
only wall of its kind, built not to protect its people but to
keep them trapped inside.
the wall fall
shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his
opinion by speech, writing and pictures ... Freedom of the press
and freedom of reporting by broadcasts and films are guaranteed.
There shall be no censorship."
5, Federal Republic of Germany Constitution, 1949
Wall is strong enough to stop a tank, but it cant stop the
truth from getting into East Germany.
system in the west spews news eastward, news that no wall can
stop. It comes by word of mouth, by smuggled message, by phone,
by radio, by TV.
media of East Germany distort the news they present. But they
cant control the flow of information. West German radio
and television can be received in most of East Germany. By 1973,
of East Germans watches West German television. The regime virtually
stops campaigning against foreign media.
the American Sector (RIAS) and Sender Freies Berlin (SFB) are
important western news sources for the people of East Germany.
They carry the famous President John F. Kennedy "Ich bin
ein Berliner" speech of June 26, 1963, as well as President
Ronald Reagans speech of June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburger
Gate, when he urges the prime minister of the Soviet Union, "Mr.
Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
In the 28
years of the wall, about 5,000 people manage to escape but 246
die in the attempt, killed by East German border guards. Then
it happens. On Nov. 9, 1989, at the end of a rambling press conference,
a senior East German official says that people can cross into
No one knows what it means. No orders have been given to the border
guards. There is complete confusion. Crowds mass at the crossing
points. Finally, at 11 p.m., the order is given. The gates are
open. That night and for days later, the public takes hammers
and sledge hammers to tear down the wall.
The fall of
the Berlin wall also is the beginning of the end of the Soviet
Union, of the Soviet domination of East Europe and of the Communist
regimes that have ruled in the region since 1945.
legacy: Freedom flourishes
U.S. proposes ... the establishment of a fund for independent
broadcasting and a free press. Our goal is to support cooperative
development of commercial and non-profit radio and television
broadcasting and a free press ... in Central and Eastern Europe."
-- U.S. Secretary
of State James Baker, 1990
burst of freedom in a divided Berlin, followed by similar changes
in the east, is not without its problems.
on Oct. 3, 1990. The democratic aspects of the west, including
media, quickly move to the east. Radio and television networks
are linked, West German newspapers start circulating in a united
of the former East Germany take on a new look.
But for central
and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the transition
to democracy is not easy, particularly in those areas where it
has never existed.
Using a free
press as a benchmark, changes in the east fall into three basic
categories. There are the success stories of independent media
and the democratic societies of Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic. Then there are the countries struggling to find their
way, to institute their own forms of democracy with occasional
setbacks, in countries such as Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine
and in Russia itself. There are other countries where government
control has become obvious and strict, including Serbia, Belarus
and the smaller nations of the Caucuses.
Unites States continues to spend millions to help develop independent
media, not simply teaching journalism but rather they philosophy
of an open marketplace of ideas. Perhaps the most compelling end
to this story is that there isnt one: Its up to each
generation in each nation to shape its political future, either
continuing to open its society, or, in a spasm, to shut it down
a veteran newsman and CBS broadcast executive, worked in Germany
for nine years.