Masscommunication as Participation. Web-Radio in Germany
University of Hohenheim, Germany
Department of Communication and Social Science
The mass media, as an educational, elucidative, entertaining and yet
social integrative and democracy preserving part of society, are
facing revolutionary structural changes through the new information
and communication devices. Especially the production and distribution
processes of information are changeing. Whereas about ten years ago
"the mass", which functioned mainly as receipients of
contents made by few (wherefore the term "mass media" is
misleading in itself; vgl. Krotz 1992), did not have the chance to
spread information (and opinions) on a broad basis, does especially
the internet provide the possibility to widely distribute information
on a low cost basis, affordable to almost everyone. The
"Umverteilung" of the means of production of information is
being realized through the adaption process of the new technologies.
This process continuously progresses not only in the specific
technological niches, like websites and e-mail, but also towards the
affiliation and the redemption of the traditional mass media.
Downstream technologies, the improvement of communication
infrastructures and comparably low costs for relatively high quality
(today's consumer high end is perfectly suitable for tv an radio)
pave the way for what Hans Magnus Enzensberger described with the
phrase "Jeder Empfänger ein potentieller Sender"
The structures of the broadcasting system in Germany is highly
influenced by its history and the experience with the misuse of
mass-communication. Rebuilt by and under control of the Allied Forces
in post war Germany, in combination with the almost completely
destroyed technical infrastructure, Germany's broadcasting system was
dominated by the public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF. Whereby
only the ARD and its affiliated regional stations had the chance to
distribute radio programs. It was not up until 1985, when the first
private tv station (SAT1) was on cable. And it wasn't until the early
90's, when nationwide tv programs were distributed terrestrically and
made receivable to a wider audience. By this extremely regulated and
restricted (economically and legally) broadcasting system, particular
forms of production of information have been developed. According to
Maletzke (1973), every message is determined by the specific
production process within a medium. Especially the rather low chances
of participation within this process gives cause for the thought,
that the mass media do not depict social reality, but only the
reality of the social group in power that own or determine the mass
media means of production (vgl. Adorno u. Horkheimer 1973).
Nevertheless, (or consequently) mass media "produce"
society and create community by spreading the same information to
millions of people at the same time in mainly the same way.
New information and communcation technologies also create
communities, but in a quite different way. Höflich sees a change
from the classical denotation of the "disperses Publikum"
(disperse audience) by Maletzke to the "elektronischen
Gemeinschaften" (1995), where, according to Goertz, the
"Rezipient" (recepient) transforms to a "Beteiligter"
(participant) (1995). So, using an idiomatic expression from Krotz
(1992) in a slightly different form and context, one could speak of
"Massenkommunikation als Teilhabe" (mass communication as
In this context, a new form of broadcast is the web-radio (sometimes
also referred to as "web-casting"). Web-radio can be
established much easier than the other forms of broadcasting, due to
the rather inexpensive equipment needed in order to get "on air"
and the (still) low entrance/participation barriers. This is one of
the reasons, why web-radio in Germany is catching on quite well. Next
to the web-radio offers of the big radio stations, who just copy
their regular program and signal it differently, there are already 15
original (genuine) web-radios, which are fully equipped and vary from
just two employees, to up to more than 20. As already mentioned, the
rapid technical development as well as the price development for such
things as online fees also contribute to this.
However, in recent months there has been a political discussion about
web-radios and its legal status. The main question and problem is, if
web-radio can be considered as broadcasting. This seems to be a
trivial question, but has several legal and economic consequences.
For instance, in some federal states webcasting is considered as
broadcasting, what in this consequence means, that the stations have
to apply for a license in order to broadcast their program legally.
But this also means, that everybody with a computer in germany is a
potential receiver of the broadcasted programs, which forces him/her
to pay the license (broadcasting) fee (after all, an annually revenue
of about 6 Billion Euro). Furthermore, if considered as broadcasting,
web-radios are also then subdued to state laws. Otherwise, if
not considered as broadcasting, it falls into the realm of
governmental laws. The question, if web-radio can be subsumed under
the term broadcasting is dependent on several factors, like the range
of coverage, the pluralistic, mind-building design of the program
etc. All these factors leave much room for interpretation, so that
decisions are not always influenced by rational considerations, but
also by lobby-work, financial- and power-interests, as well as
Based on an explorative study, the presentation will give an overlook
of the situation of web-radio in Germany today and a broad insight
into the discussion and the problems that are entailed.
As for the broad, interdisciplinary
scope of this paper, I consider it suitable for either the focal
point "New Forms of Communication" or "Legal Aspects
of Information Systems", whereas the bias can be on either
aspect. If being considered for the first, the paper will stress the
technical and professional side of the topic. Otherwise, the stress
will be on all the interwoven legal aspects.
Adorno, Theodor u. Horkheimer, Max:
Kulturindustrie. Aufklärung als Massenbetrug. In: Dies. (Hrsg.):
Dialektik der Aufklärung: philosophische Fragmente. FfM 1973. S.
Enzensberger, Hans Magnus: Baukasten zu
einer Theorie der Medien. In: Prokop, Dieter (Hrsg.):
Massenkommunikationsforschung. Bd. 2: Konsumption.- FfM 1973. S.
Goertz, Lutz: Wie interaktiv sind
Medien? In: Rundfunk und Fernsehen, 4/1995, S. 477-493.
Höflich, Joachim R.: Vom dispersen
Publikum zu 'elektronischen Gemeinschaften'. In: Rundfunk und
Fernsehen, 4/1995, S. 518-537.
Krotz, Friedrich: Kommunikation als
Teilhabe. Der 'Cultural Studies Approach'. In: Rundfunk und
Maletzke, Gerhard: Psychologie der
Massenkommunikation. 2. Auflg. 1973.