A Comparative analysis: German and Italian media in the twenty-first century

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This article compares the media environments of two western European countries, Germany and Italy. The study discusses how economic, political, regulatory and social factors have come to shape and influence German and Italian news media over the years.

Germany and Italy look back at a long history of mass media such as newspapers, radio and television that have played an important role in the construction of their national identities (Anderson 1983). Both nations have features of rich tradition, interpretative journalism, spiced with political partnership, sales-stimulating sensationalism and provocative criticism that may or may not have collectively contributed as a factor to give rise to the world’s largest media companies that currently have a significant and growing representation in Western Europe (T. Scott 2009).

It is commendable how the German media system have remade and extensively developed itself not once but twice in the twentieth century; once after World War II and again after reunification of the “two Germany’s” in 1990. Today, Germany stands to be the fifth largest economy[i] and Europe’s second largest nation (after Russia) with over 82 million[ii] inhabitants. A ‘dual system’ coexists in Germany characterising its media organization into two main forms: a private commercial daily press and public structure of broadcasting (Hickethier 2007).

On the other hand, we have the founding member of the European Union with a population of over sixty million[iii], Italy has a diversified economy whose GDP ranks lower than Germany but higher than 27 other EU countries. Although, the growth has been evidently slow over the recent years, Italian media is unique and a competitive market that is concentrated in a few hands. Media baron, Silvio Berlusconi thrice prime minister of Italy and owner of three of the four largest Italian TV channels and a variety of newspapers and magazine, plays an influential role as he blatantly uses his extensive media interests to fulfil his recurring political agendas  (Doyle, 2002; T. Scott, 2009).

Concentration of Media ownership

With the likes of Italian media giants De Benedetti, Fiat Rizzoli and Berlusconi and the world’s largest companies owned by Bertelsmann and Axel-Springer in Germany, the director of the European Journalism Observatory recognizes a “frightening concentration of press” in the Western Europe (Russ-Mohl 2003; T. Scott 2009). The economic expansion of the media system in Germany is more balanced with private, independent media conglomerates, such as the Axel Springer and the Bertelsmann Group dominating the print media while the electronic media is financed by license fees and subsidies and controlled by the government (Pfetsch 1996).  Whereas, Italy has had an unrelenting replacement of public by private media ownership since, the 1980’s, giving rise to a highly competitive market (Barlie and Rao 1992).

Traditional Media

Germany has a strong local and regional newspaper market that dates back to the beginning of the seventeenth century (J. Wilke 2000). Print media is dominated by 10 of the largest publishers who control 44.8 percent of the market, among them Axel Springer Group reins a bulk of 22.1 percent (BILD, Welt, Hamburger Abendblatt, Berliner Morgenpost, etc.) followed by Verlagsgruppe Stuttgarter Zeitung, a regional publisher who owns 8.5 percent of the market. The top-selling German tabloid paper, popularly known as the "boulevard press” is BILD Zeitung, with a circulation of 3.3 million. Sixty percent of the German magazine sector is controlled by four publishing giants Bauer, Springer, Burda and Bertelsmann.  Weekly publications like Fie Zeit and magazines, led by Der Spiegel, a liberal and highly political publish investigative and interpretative style of journalism adding to the field (J. Klenisteube and Thomass 2010; T. Scott 2009; Hickethier 2007).

Italian newspapers are fragmented by privatized groups and owners. L'Espresso group is the owner of broadsheet La Repubblica, three magazines and 15 local paid-for newspapers while the Mondadori group, is controlled by Silvio Berlusconi's family, vital book publishers in Italy, owning 40 magazines like Panorama, a right-wing publication. Italy ranks the lowest in Europe in terms of circulation and readership (only the Greeks and Portugese read less) (Mancini 2007). Italian’s most prestigious newspapers, Corriere della Sera and Repubblica, has been steadily declining for over a decade (Barlie and Rao, 1992; T. Scott 2009) as their sales dip from 1.93million in 2004 to 1.73million in 2009 copies (Giomi 2010).

Even though, Italian press has a strong regional character it continues to have “historically low level of readership; a predominance of regional over national papers; a notable lack of independence of the press; virtual nonexistence of a popular press; and the existence of a group of daily ‘news’papers that are devoted solely to either sports, religious news or other specialized and sensationalist topics” (Lumley 1996; Doyle 2002).

Broadcast Media

Radio and television markets in Germany and Italy are competitive and highly depended-on by the public for news and entertainment.

·         Radio

German radio is similar to the ‘public institution’ style of BBC Broadcasting, only more diverse as it is regulated separately in each of its 16 (Länder) states (Hickethier 1996; Pfetsch 1996). There are 51 AM stations, 767 FM stations, and four short-wave stations in Germany out of which only six percent of the public depend on the radio for news from the 77.8 million radios in Germany. Evidently, German radio is losing its importance in the twenty-first century (Ross and Fuher 2006; J. Kleinsteube and Thomass 2010).

Radio televisione Italiana (RAI) is the largest state owner of Italian’s public service broadcasting service. Two of RAI’s most listened-to stations are Radio Uno (news, public affairs, culture) and Radio Due (news, culture, music, entertainment) with an average of 6.2 and 3.8 million listeners in 2009. Radio Tre and Radio Capital are both “talk-radio formats” owned by RDI and L’Espresso group respectively.  Among numerous local FM stations, the largest share belong to music stations RTL, RDS-Radio Dimensione Suono and Radio Deejay; all have over 5million listeners (Giomi 2010; T.Scott 2009; Barlie and Rao 1992).

·         Television

Germans television is split between public and commercial programmers. ARD[iv], the first regional broadcaster set up in 1950 and is renowned for its oldest nation-wide TV channel “Das Erste”. The Second German Television or ZDF[v]  is based on an agreement of all Länder (ZDF-Staatsvertrag). Commercial broadcasters in Germany are ProSiebenSAT, previously owned by Kirch and Bertelsmann’s RTL Group S.A. who owns TV channels in about a dozen European countries (Reinemann and Eichholz 2006).

There are three main television networks in Italy; RIA is the leading state-owned broadcaster (Rai Uno, Rai Due, Rai Tre), pay TV Sky Italia, a News corporation venture and commercial broadcaster Mediaset (Rete 4, Canale 5, Italia 1), which is owned by Berlusconi. Unlike Germany, Italian television is the main source of information for viewers and ‘main agenda setter’. Traditional TV consistently maintains its centrality within Italian media consumption patterns. According to Census, in 2007 television was regularly (at least three times per week) viewed by 86 percent of all Italian people, more than in other European countries excluding. Print media deal with issues depending on how much has been analysed and said on television programmes (Giomi 2010; Statham 1996).

Online Media

Since 2000, economic and technological developments or limitatons have led German and Italian newspapers, radio and television channels to adapt and adopt towards the online medium as a news platform. German magazine, Spiegel-online and news websites of La Repubblica and La Gazzetta dello sport were among the most-visited websites in 2009. Half of 24 million internet users in Germany depend on the net to obtain news at least once a week. While, internet penetration is still low in Italy compared to other European countries as only 41 percent of households have internet access (Giomi 2010; Wilke 2010; Reinemann & Eichholz 2006; B.Eimeren & Gerhard; C.Neuberger 2000).

Language and Foreign Media

Media in Germany and Italy are disseminated in their official languages German and Italian. The literacy rate among the German populace is 99 percent[vi] and unlike Italians they take their media seriously (Reinemann and Eichholz 2006). Italy has a 98 percent literacy rate which has improved over the two decades but it is said that they ‘still do not prefer to read newspapers’ (Giomi 2010; Barlie and Rao 1992).

Italy is fairly dependent and limited to its major media produced in their own language and corporations. However, in Germany is a more diverse consumption of international media and different perspectives. Over the past 50 years, foreign public service programming has been a developing field especially since Germany’s has a history of high numbers of immigrant labour coming to Germany in the 1960’s who were soon regarded as ‘permanent part of the German society, if not the nation’ (Kosrick 2000; Rissomet al 1977). International broadcasters are Deutschland-funk and Deutsche Welle, ‘international voices of Germany’. Deutsche Welle broadcasts German television programs to 31 countries worldwide from Berlin, transmits radio by satellite around the globe to 29 nations in addition to Deutsche Welle World, who provides a multimedia Internet service. Paris Match, Elle, Vogue and W are some of the reputed foreign magazine and western newspapers that are also easily available.

According to the study by Kolmer and Semetko (2010), Germany heavily focuses on Europe (32 percent) followed by East Asia (16 percent) and Middle East and North America toed and ranked third (13 percent) for foreign news. Same rank order exists in Italy.

Censorship and Regulatory bodies

German media has no official censorship and is one of the highest rated European countries for press freedom while Italy is ranked 49th, by the World Press Freedom Index (2010)[vii] due to its strict Italian penal code and laws.  Reporters Sans Borders (RSF)[viii] identifies reasons such as “violation of the protection of journalists’ sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists and their work, and judicial summonses,” for Italy’s inability to develop its deteriorating press freedom over the recent years.

In Germany, the only regulation over the media was passed in 1995 against any child pornography on the Internet (Schweiger 2000). This bill was defined which online activities required licensing or structuring. Albeit, Germany has no official monitoring agency, it does have the active and independent bodies like the German Deutscher Presserat (Press Council) and Rundfunkrat (Independent Broadcasting Council) that oversee the operation of the print and broadcast media respectively and regulating both private and public media.

Journalism and Education Training

Journalism as a profession is not determined by any compulsory practical training in Germany but by in-house training (internships) and professional socialization (Frohlich and C.Holtz 2003). A freely available high-school diploma is sufficient to train an individual in the core aspects of journalism. Social and economic situations of journalists have improved since the 1960’s, journalists part of the German Association of Journalists  and the German Union of Journalists have negotiated for higher wage claims as acceptance of journalism as a profession has improved. High job satisfaction is evident as there are low levels of attrition.  

In contrast, joining a union or a corporation is a must for any aspiring journalist in Italy. Once certified by the Order of Journalists (Ordine), they will categorizes journalists into two: professionisti (full-time professionals, typically employed by one newspaper), and pubblicisti (free-lance journalists). Italian journalists find it cumbersome to follow the “complicated and conflicting laws and government processes” (T.Scott 2009; Weischenberg, Loffelholz and Scholl 1998). Others use the metaphor of a ‘journalist cut in half’ to describe the journalism environment as economic and political groups play a prominent role (Mancini 2007; Pansa 1977).

German and Italian media in the twenty-first century is rapidly evolving although we still see prominent features in today’s media environment that existed more than five decades ago; such as strong ties between the media and political parties in Italy or the ‘dual system’ in Germany these contribute as some significant factors if not all that have made German and Italian media, what it is today and will continue to shape their news environment (Mancini 2007) in years to come.

[i] According to the census by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook updated on December 2010,the German economy is the fifth largest economy in the world in PPP terms and Europe's largest – is
a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and household equipment and benefits
from a highly skilled labour force.
[ii] According to the census by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, Germany has an estimated population of 82,282,988 (July 2010) and ranks 15th most populous country in the world; second to Russia in Central Europe.
[iii] According to the census by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, Italy has an estimated population of 58,090,681 (July 2010).
[iv] ARD is an abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Rundfunkanstalten Deutschlands or “Consortium of public-law broadcasting institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany".
[v]  ZDF, German abbreviation for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen; The Second German Television.
[vi] According to the census by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, the literacy rate in Germany is 99 percent where everyone above age 15 can read and write German.
[vii] World Press Freedom Index (2010) is collated by Reporters Sans Frontiers (http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2010,1034.html)
vReporters Sans Frontiers (a.k.a Reporters without Borders) is a France-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press; http://en.rsf.org/

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