Deutsche Welle (DW) first went on air on May 3, 1953. How far has Germany's international broadcaster come since? What has remained the same, and what has fundamentally changed? We asked Director General Erik Bettermann.
What has most shaped your 12-year term in office, and what has most shaped DW since the turn of the millennium?
Erik Bettermann: Politically, I have no doubt that it was September 11, 2001, with its far-reaching consequences. Not long before I took office, it confirmed for me Deutsche Welle's significance for Germany, and also how important it is to be able to be heard with your own voice. Apart from that, it was certainly the rapid technological development that has completely revolutionized worldwide communications. The way media content is produced and distributed, as well as how it is accessed by users has changed dramatically.
Eight years after the end of the Second World War, it was DW's mission to ease tensions and to accompany Germany on its path back into the international community. 60 years after it began broadcasting, what is DW's mission now?
Bettermann: Today, just as 60 years ago, DW has the task of presenting Germany and communicating its values. According to the DW Act from 2005, DW is to "convey Germany as a nation rooted in European culture and as a liberal, democratic state based on the rule of law." The act updated and expanded our programming mission. With our multilingual journalistic content and DW Akademie, we are now a platform for cultural dialogue and provide a forum for points of view from Germany and elsewhere. As such, we see ourselves as a voice for freedom and human rights. Beyond that, we also promote the German language. That is part of our duty as well.
Bettermann: We want to reach a worldwide audience. In order to do so, we provide journalistic content in 30 languages. DW's statutory mandate and mission statement provide the framework for our editorial departments . Also, the expectations of our viewers, listeners and internet users always set the course for our work. We must address them in the world's various regions and languages with as much nuance as possible. In light of technological developments and the changing user behavior, it is a process of constant adaptation. That is why we relied on shortwave radio for many years, why we expanded satellite television, why we went online early on and why we are now working as a multimedia broadcaster.
And that's the reason why we regionalize our content as much as possible. For one year now, we have been broadcasting information in German, English, Spanish and Arabic on six regionalized TV channels. We also produce television magazines in additional languages for partner stations in Asia, Southeast Europe and Brazil. And of course our online activity these days includes social media and offerings for mobile devices.
DW has a statutory mandate and is financed by the state – and yet it has been providing independent journalistic content for 60 years. How was DW able to establish itself as a credible voice within these difficult parameters?
Bettermann: As Germany's tax-funded public service broadcaster for foreign audiences, we have a distinct advantage in the international media market: Just like Germany's domestic broadcasters, we also benefit from the freedom and the protection guaranteed in Article 5 of the German constitution. That is why there is no contradiction between our mission and state financing on the one hand, and our journalistic independence on the other hand. Through good journalism and a balanced portrayal of Germany, DW has earned its reputation as a credible, reliable source of information in the past decades. What also contributes to this reputation is the fact that we consistently give a voice to people who are repressed in their own countries. That was the case in the 1970s during the Greek military junta. Nowadays, for example, it is the case for the Chinese writers and artists who are critical of the regime as well as for activists in Iran and in the Middle East. People trust us. And gaining people's trust is the most valuable thing an international broadcaster can achieve.
Is that also the reason there is so much international demand for offerings from DW Akademie?
Bettermann: DW has been supporting the development of free and transparent media systems around the world for almost 50 years now. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is DW's most important partner in the endeavor of strengthening journalistic quality and media competency in developing and transition countries. For example, we are active in Tunisia and Syria, are supporting the reform process in Myanmar and are involved in long-term projects in Latin America. There is more at stake in our projects than just educating and training journalists. It's also about passing on strategies for economic survival to media organizations, and about providing disadvantaged segments of the population with access to information. We have repeatedly supported state broadcasters in their transition to becoming public service broadcasters. Currently we are involved in such a project in the Republic of Moldova. The demand is so great that we cannot respond to all of the requests.
At the moment around 3,000 media professionals take part in our training projects every year. We place great emphasis on working on location as well as on long-term commitment. Our International Media Studies Master's Program offers additional ways for our partners to gain qualifications. DW Akademie is Germany's leading organization for international media development.
Deutsche Welle has gone from being a short wave broadcaster to being a multimedia organization. Is external change dictating DW's development?
Bettermann: Since 1953, the conditions for international broadcasting and global communication have changed dramatically. If, as a broadcaster, you don't stay flexible and continuously meet the new challenges you face, you'll quickly fall behind. We focused on digital production and broadcasting early on. We were the first public broadcaster in Germany to go online. We were pioneers in the transition to multimedia journalism. Those who complete their journalistic training with us today have to be on form in all areas: on camera, behind the microphone and online. And social media has long been part of the journalistic routine in our 30 language departments. But of course modernization also means giving things up. And so we stopped broadcasting a number of radio programs that had lost their audiences. It was imperative to cut back our short wave programming significantly, in order to channel funds towards the necessary expansion of our television and internet programming. We can't keep pushing this transition forward on our own steam without any additional funds, however. Since the end of the 1990s, DW has had to give up more than a third of its budget.
In your opinion, what would be the most important gift that Deutsche Welle could receive for its 60th birthday?
Bettermann: Right from the outset, Deutsche Welle has played an important role in Germany's foreign relations. It ensures the media presence of Germany on the world stage. That is a task that has become even more important in the last decade. Many countries have made a concerted effort to set up or expand their international media activities. They have recognized the importance of international communication for their political, economic and cultural ambitions. Competition for the favor of international audiences has become much tougher. I would hope for a nationwide social and political consensus about the fact that Germany shouldn't fall behind here. We need to make more of the possibilities for presenting Germany to the outside world that our media has to offer. We want to provide our target groups from New York to Singapore and from Cairo to Buenos Aires with the great variety and quality that we value so much in our domestic media. We want to show audiences the best Germany has to offer. That's why I'm doing my best to integrate Germany's international broadcaster into the national media landscape. It would be a nice gift if we could conclude the necessary negotiations within this anniversary year.