last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 11th out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 83.8m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 4.3% (3.6m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: €3,435bn (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since January 1, 1958 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: German (EUROPA, 2020)
Press council: Der Deutsche Presserat (the German Press Council)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Germany as a “free” country with a total score of 94 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2019). This score is split 39/55 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report described Germany as a “representative democracy”, with extensive measures in place to prevent a return to an authoritarian past (Ibid.). That said, anti-immigration sentiments are on the rise, as well the influence of right-wing parties (Ibid.). In terms of key developments in 2018, the report cited several events. Chancellor Angela Merkel formed a coalition government, consisting of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democratic Party in March 2018, and publicised that she would not be running for another term in October 2018 (Ibid.). Reporters were attacked during clashes between extreme right demonstrators and counter-protestors in the city of Chemnitz (Ibid.; see also: Connolly, 2018). In January, the Network Enforcement Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz) came into effect, which requires social media companies to remove hate speech content or face fines; with posts being removed in an overzealous move by some companies to prevent fines (Ibid.; see also: Oltermann, 2018). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and specific laws prohibit hate speech, as well as speech supporting Nazi ideology and the denial of the Holocaust (Ibid.). The above-mentioned clashes at Chemnitz were an example of journalists not being offered enough protection by enforcement authorities, as well as an instance of public broadcaster ZDF being prevented by police from covering a demonstration by PEGIDA (Ibid.).

Media landscape

Echoing the 2019 report from Freedom House, the RSF report for 2020 shows that Germany has secure liberties regarding freedom of the press, however, there is increased influence from right-wing parties (RSF, 2020). Journalists are generally protected by the constitutional court, although there has been an increase in attacks and harassment, many from the extreme right, but also from the extreme left (Ibid.). Online privacy and anonymity is currently under pressure due to revisions of policy, such as the criminalization of leaked information, or provisions for intelligence agencies to be able to access hardware or communications that would normally require a formal process, which creates a potential threat to journalists and the protection of their sources (Ibid.). Local newspapers are in the decline in what the RSF describes as a “steady erosion” of media pluralism (Ibid.).

The Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 outlines key points of Germany’s media context, notably that television is the main source of news for Germans, although using the internet for news is on the rise (Hölig and Hasebrink, 2019). The Network Enforcement Act that came into force in 2018 is politically seen as a success, with other countries following suit with similar legislation (Ibid.). Two organisations were enlisted by Facebook to assist with fact-checking during the recent European Elections (in May 2019); these were Correctiv, which is a not-for-profit investigative newsroom, and the German Press Agency (Ibid.). Trust in social media as well as news is on the decline, and the report described a possible reason for this being the notoriety of decorated journalist Claas Relotius, who fabricated stories across different news brands (Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonnntagszeitung, Die Welt, and SZ Magazin), as well as his own place of employment, Der Spiegel (Ibid.). Print circulation is on the decline, and as a consequence, concentration is on the rise (Ibid.). The report described the newspaper merger with the company Verlagsgruppe Rhein-Main, newsrooms mergers with Madsack Media Group and DuMont (with sales of print brands from the latter), and HuffPost Germany closing offices in Berlin in March 2019 (Ibid.). Axel Springer, which has in its portfolio Bild, Die Welt, Business Insider, and Upday (a news amalgamator), is doing well financially as well as with its digital presence (Ibid.). Bild has recently launched Bild Politics, which is a print magazine (Ibid.). Funding and operation of the two main national public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF are current problems. However, financing procedures may be changed in order to ensure better cash flows (Ibid.). Interestingly, the public broadcasters have reached an agreement with commercial publishers, where the public broadcasters are able to post transmission online before broadcast (“online first”), and in exchange the public broadcasters will reduce the number of text news articles so as to make room for newspapers and magazines; this agreement was reached without litigation (Ibid.).

Newspapers and market

German-language media extend beyond the borders of Germany to Austria, Switzerland, and minorities in Belgium, Denmark, and Luxembourg (Thomaß and Horz, 2017). Post-WWII and with the merging of East and West Germany, Germany underwent a series of democratic changes and improvements to domestic media, though there are still nuanced differences between the two regions and with ownership and locations still favouring the Western side (Ibid.). The history of the German press dates back 400 years and still has a strong presence today, even with advances in broadcasting and digital technology (Ibid.). Five companies control the newspaper market: Axel Springer SE, Südwestdeutsche Medienholding, Funke Mediengruppe, DuMont Schauberg, and Madsack (Ibid.). Up until 1984, broadcasting services were limited to public broadcasters, but were then opened up to commercial broadcasters (Ibid.). Netflix and other streaming services are gaining popularity, and separately, quality journalism is under pressure (Ibid.).

The German newspaper market is the fifth largest in the world, and the largest in Europe. However, like other markets it is decreasing (Ibid.). In the decade between 2000 and 2010, revenues reduced by 20%, with advertising revenues reducing by approximately 60% (Ibid.). The tally of German newspapers in 2016 was 344 dailies, 21 weeklies, and seven Sunday editions (Ibid.). The most popular of these are Die Zeit (broadsheet, quality), and BILD am Sonntag (tabloid, popular) (Ibid.). The press does not align itself to political parties (Ibid.), however, like other countries it aligns variously to particular ideologies. For example, news workers at BILD (tabloid, popular), “are bound by contract to its basic codes of conduct, which includes Israel’s right to exist and support of the liberal market economy” (Ibid.). Germany is unique in the DFoP countries in that it has a press that addresses its multicultural makeup, with Thomaß and Horz (2017) referring to unspecified press targeting guest workers and their descendants. Thew native-language press also includes 50 Russian-language publications, and Turkish-language Hürriyet (Liberty), which was established in 1971 (Ibid.).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Germany (Newman et al., 2019: 87). ARD News (public broadcaster, formerly West Germany) ranks at the top at 54% for tv, radio, and print, with Spiegel online (online news) at 18% for online (Ibid.). In terms of the top four newspapers, BILD (tabloid, popular) was at 13% for online and 11% for print, unspecified regional and local newspapers were at 10% for online and 34% for print, Süddeutsche Zeitung (broadsheet, quality) was at 9% for online with no stats for print, and Die Zeit (weekly) at 8% for online with no stats for print (Ibid.). Germany, as opposed to other DFoP countries, has a mix of news brands with broadcast and online-only brands featuring strongly along with weekly magazines.

Public service media

The public broadcasting system is split between the regions and either provide services independently or through collaborations (Thomaß and Horz, 2017). The overarching entity is called the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany; Ibid.). Two of these broadcaster service the entire country, the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (television) and Deutschlandradio (radio; Ibid.). Deutsche Welle operates both domestically and internationally with television, radio, and online services in German, English and 30 other languages; a move that includes serving the non-German speaking communities (Ibid.). These systems are independent and are financed through licensing fees, and in some cases, advertising to a small degree (Ibid.). Each one involves a “socially-relevant group” that is composed of organisations and interest groups to ensure that each continues to be independent as well as reflecting the needs of its audience (Ibid.).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in German news was at 47%, with Germany ranking 12th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 87). The most trusted sources of news are ARD Tagesschau (part of public broadcaster ARD, formerly West Germany) and ZDF heute (commercial broadcaster), and the least trusted are t-online (online only) and BILD (tabloid, popular; Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news is ARD Tagesschau (6.97), and the top five newspapers following are unspecified regional and local newspapers (6.72), Süddeutsche Zeitung (broadsheet, quality; 6.45), Die Zeit (weekly; 6.38), Focus (weekly; 6.03), and Der Spiegel (weekly; 6.00; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,537 German participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016). Here, 79% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 53% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for Germany). Likewise, 50% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in news was at 72% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 66%, radio at 72%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 68%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 24% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 12%, with 42% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 13% of German respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: t-online (15%), (13%), (12%), and HuffPost (6%). In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, Krautreporter is a crowd-funded, membership-funded investigative journalism platform founded in 2014, with a small number of academic studies on it (Porlezza and Splendore, 2016: 201; see also: Zaripova, 2017). Krautreporter has as newsroom of 26 journalists and is supported by 12,000 members (Granger, 2020), and has seen a great deal of recent success financially from its inception with $1.38 in crowdfunds, and monthly fees ranging between €5 and €9 (Schmidt, 2019); and is a recipient of a grant from the Engaged Journalism Accelerator, an organisation that supports “engaged journalism” (EJA, 2018).

Current studies and context

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in Germany refer back to 2017, showing that Germany has mixed rankings with “medium” to market plurality (28%), “medium risk” to social inclusiveness (28%) and political independence (18%), and “low risk” to basic protection (22%; Steindl and Hanitzsch, 2017). In summary, the report highlighted that key concerns for the German context have to do with potential breaches of privacy and rights with the Network Enforcement Act, which has to do with the removal of hate speech from online platforms, and the Federal Intelligence Service Act, which reflects changes in how Germany is approaching its policies on intelligence gathering (Ibid; see also: Wetzling, 2017).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, Germany is ranked as 11th (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a rise from 13th in 2019 (RSF, 2020). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in German news was at 47%, with Germany ranking 12th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 87). Germany has an internet penetration rate of 96% (Ibid.: 86).

Regulatory environment

Regulation of commercial radio and broadcast channels is managed by 14 organisations representing the 14 regions of Germany, and are managed by a parent company called die medienanstalten, or the Media Authorities (die medienanstalten, 2020). In addition to acting as the voice of the 14 organisations in terms of European media policy (Landesanstalt für Medien NRW, 2020), die medienanstalten is in charge of issuing licenses and ensuring compliance with advertising and diversity regulations, as well as monitoring the development of new technologies (die medienanstalten, 2020). It is composed of four entities: the Commission on Licensing and Supervision,[1] which deals with broadcasters, regulation of these, and advancements in digital broadcasting; the Committee Chairperson Conference,[2] which “allocates platforms” and manages transmission; the Commission on Concentration in the Media,[3] monitors diversity and pluralism; and the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media,[4] which protects the interest of minors (Ibid.). Separately, the Director’s Conference of the State Media Authorities,[5] deals with media policy and development (Ibid.).

In Germany broadcasting has a “dual system”, with public broadcasters financed through licensing fees, and commercial broadcasters financed through advertising (die medienanstalten, 2020). The reason that commercial broadcasters are split into 14 and under a central organisation is because constitutional law is considered to be under the remit of each individual German state; though in the cases of Berlin and Brandenburg or Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, these are under joint authorities (Ibid.). The legal agreements that bind the 14 authorities are through the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement, the Youth Media Protection Agreement, and media laws at state level; along with the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement (Ibid.).

The press council

The German press council has webpages in English. It describes itself as “the body responsible for enforcing the voluntary self-regulation of the press in Germany” by addressing complaints in relation to the German Press Code, which was originally published in 1973 (Deutscher Presserat, 2020). It was created in 1956 and followed the model of the historical British Press Council, which was established in 1953 (Ibid.). It is situated “under private law” and is set up as a not-for-profit organisation that monitors the self-regulation of the press, and is funded by contributions from its governing association, as well as subsidies from the German government through a law from 1976 (Ibid.). The press council exists under its governing association that is composed of four organisations (two publishing, two journalist), which are: Federation of German Newspaper Publishers, German Federation of Journalists, German Journalists Union, and the Association of German Magazine Publishers (Ibid.). The press council itself is composed of 28 members, with seven representatives from the 4 association organisations, with posts lasting two years (Ibid.). Three complaints committees handle complaints (two with eight members for general complaints, and one with six members for “editorial data protection”), and anyone can complain to the press council as long as it is related to “journalistic work that has been published in a newspaper, a magazine or on the internet” (Ibid.). Decisions can include the publication of the press council’s decision, a private written reprimand in order to protect the privacy of the complainant, a “notice of censure” and an “advice notice”; or these could be avoided if the defending party corrects the error by publishing a correction or reader’s letter (Ibid.). Radio, television, advertisements, “free sheets”, and websites are not addressed by the German press council (Ibid.).

Recent press council report/cases

The annual reports are only available in German.

Other bodies and codes of ethics

Thomaß and Horz (2017) refer to four journalist associations: the Frankfurter Presseclub (press club), Freischreiber (for freelancers), Neue Deutsche Medienmacher (for new media), and Pro Quote (for women news workers). A Google Advanced Search of all these organisations yielded no results for a search for codes (kodex), with the exception of Freischreiber (for freelancers), which has a short code of 10 lines called (as listed on their website), a “Code of Fairness” (2015).

Journalism culture

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Germany (n=775), German participants had worked an average of 19.52 years as journalists, with over half of respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (59.9%; Hanitzsch et al., 2016). Journalists are trained, typically with an advanced university degree (64.4%), or with a specialised degree in journalism or communication studies (43.8%; Ibid.). In general, German journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.: 2). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are” (90.7%), “Provide analysis of current affairs” (83.5%), “Be a detached observer” (82.5%), “Provide the kind of news that attracts the largest audience” (73.5%), “Promote tolerance and cultural diversity” (66.7%), “Provide advice, orientation and direction for daily life” (66.1%), “Educate the audience” (57.4%), “Tell stories about the world” (57.3%), “Provide information people need to make political decisions” (56.2%), “Provide entertainment and relaxation” (51.4%; Ibid.). With regards to professional ethics, most of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (93.9%), and a very small number thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (46.4%), as smaller number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (10.4%), and an equally small number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (10.8%; Ibid.: 3).

Other information

Governing framework
Democratic and social federal state (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2020)

Bundestag (Bundestag, 2020a)

Seats in parliament
709 (Bundestag, 2020b)

Last election
2017 (Clarke, 2017), next election: by October, 2021 (Chambers, 2020)

Seats held by women
31% (The World Bank, 2020)

Coalition government
Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democratic Party (Freedom House, 2019)

Populist party
Alternative for Germany, established in 2013 (BBC, 2020)

Origins of key minority groups
Turkish, Kurdish, former Yugoslavs, Roma, Vietnamese (Minority Rights, 2020)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • 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. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
  • Laws regarding military and alternative service may provide that the basic right of members of the Armed Forces and of alternative service freely to express and disseminate their opinions in speech, writing and pictures (first clause of paragraph (1) of Article 5), the basic right of assembly (Article 8), and the right of petition (Article 17) insofar as it permits the submission of requests or complaints jointly with others, be restricted during their period of military or alternative service.
  • Whoever abuses the freedom of expression, in particular the freedom of the press (paragraph (1) of Article 5), the freedom of teaching (paragraph (3) of Article 5), the freedom of assembly (Article 8), the freedom of association (Article 9), the privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications (Article 10), the rights of property (Article 14), or the right of asylum (Article 16a) in order to combat the free democratic basic order shall forfeit these basic rights. This forfeiture and its extent shall be declared by the Federal Constitutional Court.

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Key events
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Germany.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Germany.


Newspapers run by the five largest publishing companies (list is not exhaustive):

  • Axel Springer SE: BILD, Bild am Sonntag, Die Welt, Welt am Sonntag, B.Z. (local), B.Z. am Sonntag (local).
  • Südwestdeutsche Medienholding: Süddeutsche Zeitung, Stuttgarter Zeitung (local), Stuttgarter Nachrichten (local), Bayrische Staatszeitung (local).
  • Funke Mediengruppe: Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung – WAZ (local), Berliner Morgenpost (local), Hamburger Abendblatt (local), Thüringer Allgemeine (local).
  • DuMont Schauberg: Berliner Zeitung (local), Express (local), Kölner Stadtanzeiger (local).
  • Madsack: Märkische Allgemeine (local), Hannoversche Allgemeine (local), Neue Pressse (local).

Source: Thomaß and Horz (2017)


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[1] Kommission für Zulassung und Aufsicht, ZAK
[2] Gremienvorsitzendenkonferenz, GVK
[3] Kommission zur Ermittlung der Konzentration im Medienbereich, KEK
[4] Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz, KJM
[5] Direktorenkonferenz der Landesmedienanstalten, DLM

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