Thursday, December 21, 2006

Differences Between the U.S. and Germany II

Television and the Media

It's a common stereotype that American TV is unbelievably bad. And for the most part, it is. Very rarely do you get international news, instead you see hyped up national and local news, invariably stressing violent or freak or feel-good incidents; politics is always presented in a black and white, emotional, and incredibly simplifying manner, then you have UFOs and "Unsolved Mysteries", and of course a fair amount of daytime talk shows with transgender prostitutes who recently had plastic surgery and are now sleeping with their sons, or whatever. This whole disaster is thankfully interrupted by screaming commercials every couple of minutes. These days I can't stomach it for longer than half an hour.

In Germany, the biggest TV stations are "Anstalten ƶffentlichen Rechts", which means that they cannot make profit, they are independent in the sense that politicians cannot directly influence their decisions, and the top managers are appointed by councils that represent the major groups in society: political parties, unions, churches, business etc. Laws prescribe their internal organization and their purpose. They are financed from a monthly fee that every owner of a radio or TV set (and now even a computer because a special device makes it possible to receive TV signals on your computer) has to pay and from advertising money. Advertising is restricted to certain times of the day and never interrupts movies or news shows. News coverage is usually very broad, internationally oriented and well-balanced with few freak coverage (then again, I believe that many more freak incidents happen in the US than in Germany, for some reason. Have you ever seen a living room being washed away by the rain or 50 houses burning down in Germany? Happens all the time in America.)

Then there are also private TV stations in Germany, mostly on cable. They definitely move in the direction of US TV, not quite reaching it yet though.

Again, there's another side to the story, which is not well-known outside of the US, maybe not even inside. It is public TV and radio. Financed mostly by donations and partly by the government (few ads), it provides exceptionally high quality programming, much better than anything I've seen on German public TV. The news coverage on public TV and national public radio approaches the quality of German news, except for international coverage. Science coverage is clearly superior in US public media. I personally enjoy the public media in the US more than the ones in Germany, mostly because of the in-depth coverage of a vast variety of topics.

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