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Unwilling politicians and wrangling over competence are among the initial difficulties of public service broadcasting. When ARD launched its first television programme, the Adenauer government was responsible for the explosives because it also wanted to set up a television channel.

Broadcasting is set up decentrally by the Allies in their respective zones. Between 1945 and 1955, the state broadcasting corporations were established, some of whose broadcasting areas covered several federal states. The organisational structures of the stations were developed by the Allies together with German politicians. Some politicians, however, take positions directly opposed to the Allies and strive for the widest possible state control of the medium. “These conflicts of interest explain why the deadlines set by the Allies for the state parliaments to draft the broadcasting laws were not met, especially since the occupying powers rejected some drafts as insufficient,” writes WDR editor Wolfgang Kapust in his essay “Entwicklung des Rundfunks nach 1945” (Development of Broadcasting after 1945). In July 1949, for example, Reinhold Maier, Minister President of the then state of Württemberg-Baden, criticized: “The German position could only agree with the view that a radio station basically belonged to nobody, that nobody had any responsibility, and that nobody had any influence.

The state broadcasting stations join forces to form ARD

The varying size and financial strength of the institutions will soon make cooperation necessary. The first proposal came as early as 1947 from Hans Bredow, Chairman of the Board of the “Hessischer Rundfunk” (HR) and former radio commissioner of the “Reichsrundfunkgesellschaft” during the Weimar Republic. But his plans to found a working group “Deutscher Rundfunk” fail. Radio pioneer Bredow wants to put himself at the head of this broadcasting authority. The directors fear that they will have to cede their independence to a central organisation. Instead, the broadcasting corporations agree in June 1950 on the foundation of the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”. “ARD was a loose association without its own legal personality,” writes Heinz-Werner Stuiber, Professor of Communication Science, in his book “Medien in Deutschland”. Each institution takes over the management for a period of two years.

Television becomes a mass medium

Shortly after the founding of ARD, the “Nordwestdeutsche Rundfunk” (NWDR) started its first trial television operation in November 1950. Because of the high costs, a joint programme is to be broadcast for the federal territory. The ARD directors agree on the “Television Contract of the West German Broadcasters”, which is signed in June 1953. It limits the programme to “a maximum of two hours a day”. The joint programme “Deutsches Fernsehen” goes on air in November 1954. For technical reasons, the programme initially consists mainly of live broadcasts. The seven-hour live programme about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II or the live coverage of the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland is spectacular. It was not until the second half of the 1950s that it became possible to store television signals on magnetic tape. This is why practically no original documents were preserved from early television.

Adenauers plan

Soon after the founding of ARD, the federal government under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) is trying to acquire competences in the field of programming. In 1959, Adenauer presented the “draft of a law on broadcasting” to the Bundestag without discussing it with the federal states beforehand. He wants to establish three broadcasting corporations under federal law. Two radio stations are planned: the “Deutsche Welle” (DW) as foreign service and the “Deutschlandfunk” (DLF) as transmitter for the GDR. In addition, Adenauer wants to install a second television channel, “Deutschland-Fernsehen”. This “Deutschland-Fernsehen” was to be a public-law institution which would design a certain proportion of the programme itself, but would take over the majority of the programme from a private television company,” said Professor Stuiber.

The second program is launched

The parliamentary majority votes in favour of the establishment of DW and DLF. In this way, the Länder leave the right to broadcast programmes abroad to the Confederation. Both Federal Broadcasting Stations begin broadcasting in 1962 and become members of ARD. Adenauer’s television plans, on the other hand, lead to a conflict of competence between the Federal Government and the Länder. When Adenauer fails in the Bundestag with his television plan, he founds “Deutschland Fernsehen GmbH” (DFG). The Länder, however, refuse to take “Adenauer’s handstroke” (WDR editor Kapust): in order to prevent the introduction of a federal-dominated television system, the Länder bring an action before the Federal Constitutional Court. In 1960, the Adenauer television was prohibited from starting broadcasting by interim injunction. With the television judgement of 28 February 1961, responsibility for broadcasting is laid down in constitutional law. The court states “that the organisation of broadcasting is a matter which should be regulated exclusively by the Länder”, according to Professor Stuiber. Under this condition, the Minister Presidents were able to sign the State Treaty on the Establishment of the “Second German Television” (ZDF) in June 1961.

The “third television channels” are created

The founding of the ZDF by the federal states in turn causes a conflict with the state broadcasting corporations: ARD itself is interested in broadcasting a second television programme. As early as 1957, the Directors’ Conference decided to prepare such a programme. The ARD regional broadcasters are allowed to produce a second programme on a transitional basis until ZDF starts broadcasting. But with the start of broadcasting by the new, central public television station on 1 April 1963, this provisional arrangement came to an end. In the conflict with the federal states, the state broadcasters are allowed to set up “third television channels” in their respective broadcasting areas as compensation. They were established between 1964 and 1969 and focused on education, regional affairs and information. Professor Stuiber’s conclusion: “With the start of broadcasting operations by ZDF and the start of broadcasting of the third programmes, the process of reorganising and expanding the broadcasting system created by the Allies came to a provisional conclusion.