Monday, October 4, 2010

East German Television/Media, Andrew Taverrite

Andrew Taverrite

Professor Ward- French Media

Paper Due 5 Oct 2010

East German Media

The Cold War and the Iron Curtain represent different themes for people around the globe. Post World War Two, there was a deep mistrust and heightened tension between the opposing sides. While the effects of this time period were felt all over the globe- from the Space Race in the US and USSR to the Missile Crisis in Cuba- Germany stood right between the two sides, resulting in a torn nation and separated states for many decades.

In 1949, Germany split into two states. The socialist, Soviet occupied Eastern Germany became the German Democratic Republic, or GDR, while West Germany, including the island-like West Berlin, became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divide was fierce and polarizing, and the effects of the break were almost tangible in the way that each side embodied it’s own value system. This leads to East German Media and Television, a demonstrative example of state controlled media.

This essay will review some main topics regarding the German Democratic Republic it’s media types. The media in Eastern Germany was controlled by the state, and since the state was in direct conflict with many other countries, there was a lot of propaganda in the media. There were strict bans on Western broadcasting and viewing, including most anything from West Germany. Though state controlled, there were still some programs that became immensely popular and had effects outside of the GDR.

Propaganda in media is recognized as a negative factor of closed states and their viewpoints. Contrary to open media and balanced viewpoints as we are, for the most part, used to in the United States, propaganda is a one sided argument. Often times it is in place for the sole purpose of being a heavy influence to make people think a certain way. As is typical with similar regimes, political agendas are often furthered by propaganda. In East Germany, there was a lot of propaganda circulated. As depicted in the YouTube link (, we can see an Eastern German commercial praising the work done in 1958. As noted, the second half of the ad perpetuates the thought of luxury available to Germans just around Christmas time. Since we know that propaganda if often times misleading, this commercial is fitting, being that even though it portrays many items available for purchase, there were shortages around this time on things as simple and common as towels, underwear, and candles.

The SED was the main political party in the GDR, and since all media was state-owned and not independent, the SED was able to control all the media outlets (Country-Data). This allowed for news to be “pre-planned” and let out at specific times. This also allowed the state to limit and not allow any type of investigative journalism that it didn’t deem appropriate. “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” (Country-Data). This limited view of politics and the country made it very difficult for the people to see major problems and unite, therefore strengthening the government. However, many sources agree that an internal pluralistic media type was present, and therefore providing more free news, which is in contradiction to propaganda and one-source news themes (Gunther & Munghan, 384).

Since there was so much tension between the East and West sectors of Germany and the East had a more closed regime in power, there were strict bans on most Western programming and media broadcasts, coupled with punishments if one was caught tuning in to the West’s media, including the incredibly popular music entertainment television channels. Because of the close proximity of the East and West, especially regarding the “island” of West Berlin, it was nearly impossible for the GDR officials to block all the Western channels in the East. If they had done this, the blockers would have affected Western areas and blocked their own channels, which would cause lowered diplomatic relations (Park & Curran, 35) (Connolly). The citizens would try and receive Western channels though, at risk of being caught by the police. However, in August 1987, East Germany lost some of their grip and the West saw a non-unified front with regards to banning. On the record, an East German TV official admitted that banning Western channels was “senseless” and the East was now going to compete for audience and viewership (PR Newswire). Though this happened a mere two years before the reunification of Germany, it signaled a new openness and awareness that the people could and would access the channels and information that they wanted.

Most would assume that programming in a closed, state controlled media system would be unentertaining and negative. Often times, this was true. The East German television system though, called Deutscher Fernsehfunk (also known as Fernsehen der DDR), did have one show that was extremely well watched and even had viewers from outside of East Germany try to pick up the signal. The Sandmannchen, which translates to “Little Sandman,” was an East German cartoon character who would travel the world and return home each night after his adventures. This show became immensely popular and was credited with being a part of the German culture during reunification that all Germans could agree upon. Says Connolly of The Guardian, “He might have appeared an innocent and apolitical creation, but he came to embody the wanderlust of many East Germans frustrated at their inability to travel.” The creators were warned by the socialist government to be careful not to implant any ideas of travel or escape in the public’s mind had even reprimanded the creators. Western culture would also spot the show, causing more controversy over the Communist cartoon. Overall, this show was noteworthy due to the fact that freer people were trying to tune into it, rather than only the people of the East trying to find more liberal media.

Overall, East German media had an obviously Socialist nature about it, including propaganda, closed news sources, and banned Western channels, yet with an added twist of a show people yearned for.


(Pictures would not post.)

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