″A grand achievement″ | 60 years DW | DW | 30.04.2013
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60 years DW

"A grand achievement"

Reforms are an ongoing process at DW. Ever since it first went on air, transformation has always been an integral part of DW’s work.

transmission systemin Jülich 1956

transmission system in Jülich 1956

"The essential consolidation of public budgets and the principles of frugality and cost-effectiveness, which apply to DW as well [...], require an unbiased review [...] of current activities and the implementation of acceptable savings."

Is this an excerpt from DW’s current task planning? No, it comes from the strategy paper "Deutsche Welle's Mid-Term Perspectives," which was unanimously approved by the Broadcasting Board on November 26, 1984.

Nearly 30 years later many of its passages still sound familiar:"...has to face new challenges with regards to programs and technical aspects," "the competition [...] and the increased use of new media technology around the world are jeopardizing DW's ability to carry out the tasks assigned to it," "needs to adapt to the geopolitical developments and the changing needs of information seekers."

Development, change and reforms have been the norm at DW from the beginning. At first the agenda focused on the establishment and expansion of the various editorial departments, programming and technical capacities. The growing number of broadcasting facilities also provided the opportunity to increase the number of broadcasts. In 1962 DW was broadcastinig in 17 languages, four years later in 28 and in 1973 in 33. This created the need for more staff and more office space. The frequent organizational decisions have reflected such changes over the years.

Growing pressure to cut costs

In the 1970s there was increasing pressure to cut costs. In 1974 DW's Director General at the time, Walter Steigner said: "What can be done inside the company using our own resources should no longer be outsourced to external parties." He called for responsible spending, pointing out that "a well-functioning broadcaster undergoes constant changes and reorganizations."

It is now hard to imagine what the working conditions at DW were like in the first decades of its existence. "I don't know of a single international shortwave broadcaster that has as many obstacles to its work as ours does," Steigner stated at a general staff meeting in July 1972. Having the employees work from several locations in Cologne, limited space - a lot still seemed improvised and unfinished. At the same time, DW was under pressure to keep up with the rapid pace of global developments.

While Russia, the US, China, Great Britain and other countries expanded their international media activities by leaps and bounds, DW was having a hard time even getting on air in some regions of the world. Then, two major sporting events in Germany prompted politicians to act: the 1972 Olympics and the FIFA World Cup two years later, which provided excellent opportunities for development thanks to the worldwide attention focused on Germany. But first, the reception quality had to be improved. "Jülich, Wertachtal, Sines, Malta, the Caribbean, Sackville - that's the radio transmission network that Deutsche Welle has built up," said Steigner at the start of 1972.

Streamlining work processes

The dominant themes during these years were increasing capacity and making plans for DW’s own broadcasting center. The director general expected that the new building would present "many opportunities for streamlining daily work".

Calls for cost cutting and related reforms had an unsettling effect on the employees. "A certain air of resignation prevails at Deutsche Welle - people believe more is being eliminated than created," the director general noted in 1975. Steigner pointed to the progress made - such as restructuring the English-language program, the expansion of Portuguese and the introduction of Bengali.

In 1980 Director General Conny Ahlers also identified areas for improvement. He called for "reorganization and improved cooperation," spoke of "streamlining the work process" and announced "a general review of the programming." Not everyone was pleased with these plans, but they never came to fruition due to the director general's early death.

In the late 1980s, DW expanded its television activity. In July 1988, the monthly TV magazines "Focus on Europe" and "Schauplatz Deutschland - Germany live" premiered in the USA and Canada. In his inaugural address in 1989, Director General Dieter Weirich mentioned the creation of a global, modern satellite TV network as one of his most important goals.

Accelerating the pace of reforms

Due to a complete overhaul of broadcasting policy following German reunification, tremendous changes took place: DW not only took over parts of former East German international broadcaster Radio Berlin International and 11 European editorial departments of public broadcasting station DLF, but also Berlin-based RIAS-TV, which was expanded and later became DW’s global television branch. The "DW 2000" reform project brought together plans for reorganization and modernization. Human, technological and administrative resources were to be reorganized for the benefit of the programming and the Internet presence. This entailed extensive internal restructuring.

Since then, plans for reforms have been updated at an accelerated pace - partly driven by significant budget cuts since 1998 and partly by the rapidly changing international media landscape.

In 1971, an external study commissioned by DW's Administrative Board stated: "The work of Deutsche Welle, with its minimal costs, is truly a grand achievement." This is still the case today.