Journal Article

From Propaganda to Modernization: Media Policy and Media Audiences under National Socialism

Clemens Zimmermann

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 24, issue 3, pages 431-454
Published in print July 2006 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online July 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
From Propaganda to Modernization: Media Policy and Media Audiences under National Socialism

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To date, historians have worked on the assumption that National Socialism used the media to powerful propaganda effect. Yet at an early stage a few voices, especially within Anglo-Saxon scholarship, questioned whether the process was so direct. Increasingly the individual media have been examined, both technically and in terms of their public the reactions they provoked. This essay examines how the media can be said to have modernized under National Socialism, and how newspaper readers, radio listeners and cinema audiences reacted to the development of the media. There were major differences. Radio was conceived as a medium for music and entertainment; new formats were developed in response to listeners turning to programmes from abroad, so that German radio could no longer keep a monopoly on information. The majority of feature films were melodramas and light entertainment, and although many carried a ‘message’, the cinema was fundamentally a commercial, non-political sphere. Newspapers remained relatively conservative in presentation. The press was largely concentrated in the hands of the party, so information was highly controlled, and due to difficulties of production in wartime they became increasingly unattractive, and by 1942 were trusted by few readers. The corpus of the media generally became technically more efficient, and sought to please its growing audience. Total control of the media by the political leaders was not achieved. Particular elements, such as war films, or the ‘Wehrmacht Request Show’, had memorable success. Agenda setting by the media planners put certain key political ideas into the forefront, and they were able to disseminate key symbols and rituals of National Socialism. The media were but one of many agents used, though, to foster political loyalty. The régime also, and more importantly, achieved this by using existing attitudes, and through its permanent threat of violence towards the population, whom they also seduced with material ‘treats’. It emerges that it is both possible and helpful in studying the development of the media to examine it as a process of modernization in the media, in their organizational and technical structures. This process was however undermined wherever in German society anti-modernist ideology and practices persisted or fought back.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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