Media Democracy: Non-Discriminatory Access to Radio and TV
Non-Discriminatory Access to Radio and TV
Open Channels are radio and television accessible to anyone and everyone. Making use of Open Channels is making use of the right of free expression that is part of the German constitution.
Open Channels offer everyday people the opportunity to use a camera and a microphone to improve local communication, to establish dialogue between different social groups, and to be both seen and heard.
Open Channels do not compete with professional television. To do this would contradict the idea behind these Channels.
The equipment available has to be easy to handle and does not reach broadcast quality. The short training Open Channel producers receive cannot be compared with the years of training and experience at professional TV stations. Due to these restrictions Open Channel producers are making more with less. The producer has no choice but to work together with other producers. The production itself mostly establishes the first step to communication.
The restrictions at Open Channels turn out to be the advantages for the producers. One big advantage is that there is no tyranny of ratings.
The Open Channel Producer has more freedom and flexibility. He can afford to make changes and risks even to offend a few people. He does not have to sell the products of the sponsors because there are no sponsors. He does not have to serve a broad audience. He can be strictly local and serve specific interests.
Open Channel programming is unpolished, direct and plain, truthful and rough. It is what the producer wants it to be.
There are certain regulations and rules common to all Open Channels in Germany:
The first Open Channel in Germany started in 1984. Now we have almost 60 of these Channels in different parts of Germany and the number is still increasing.
The legislative basis for the Open Channels is to be found in the media laws of different states (lands) of the Federal Republic of Germany.
In Germany everybody receiving radio and television has to pay a set fee that is mainly used to finance the public service TV and radio programs. A small part of the set fee paid in the state (lands) where one or more Open Channels exist is used for funding these Channels.
Open Channel Berlin
The Open Channel Berlin was launched in August 1985 as part of the Pilot-Cable-Project. A former factory site in Berlin-Wedding housed the Open Channel Berlin from the beginning. At that time the location was right next to the East-Berlin border, but due to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is now almost in the center of town. The buildings are a real media park. Having the French and Canadian television, Deutsche Welle, Reuter TV and a considerable number of other media companies as close neighbors, the Open Channel Berlin managed to assert itself with the self-confidence of a fleur sauvage.
More than 6000 producers have used the Open Channel Berlin. Everyone 18 and over who lives within the region of the German Constitution has the right to use it. Its radio and TV signals are transmitted in the Berlin cable system, which has more than 1.500.000 subscribers. A permanent staff of 13 is employed being responsible for the management, administration, equipment and public relations as well as for the consultation, support and training of the users. For production we offer four TV studios (including two portables), one radio-studio, cameras, microphones, editing facilities, etc.
As in all Open Channels, there is a broad range of topics. One of Berlin's specialties is the fact that the producers of the television programs come from 30 different countries and 30% of the productions are in a foreign language; on radio 10 countries and 10% of the productions. The great need for foreign groups to broadcast in their native language strongly illustrates the idea of Open Channels. All those having no voice in the other media get a chance to speak here.
You are I - A Model for Integration
Since August 1985, programs produced by women and Turks, the unemployed and students, homosexuals and artists, Iranians and teachers, homeless persons and pupils, have been transmitted on the Open Channel Berlin. During the blueprint stage preceding the beginning of broadcast activities of the Open Channel Berlin, there were many discussions whether certain fringe groups should be offered a privileged access to the channel. In these discussions German fringe groups took precedence. At this time the opportunity to provide access to cultural and ethnic minority groups was secondary. In spite of this or maybe exactly for this reason, cultural and ethnic minority groups have pretty soon discovered the channel for their own purposes. Special efforts to rouse this interest in the Open Channel Berlin would possibly have had a counterproductive effect or might only have attracted certain interest groups and in this respect would have undermined integration.
In the following reflection, the term integration need not be understood by the meaning attributed to it by policies that address the social relations with cultural and ethnic minorities. The Open Channel Berlin is itself a social system in which integration can be seen to result from interdependencies, even where there are quite divergent attitudes toward basic social values.
Interdependence No. 1: You transmit because I transmit.
No matter how anti-democratic, radical or fundamentalist a program producer may be, if he crosses the threshold of the Open Channel Berlin, he becomes subject to its rules and regulations. The producer accepts the fact that he is only allowed to transmit because others with quite different views are also allowed to transmit. Each producer claims a democratic and constitutional right - the freedom of speech - and he can exercise this right by observing the equality of this constitutional right enabling all to have the same right of access. By way of his activities at the Open Channel Berlin, the producer demonstrates his participation in the society that is based on equality and freedom for all citizens.
Interdependence No. 2: You transmit because I watch.
Program producers are concerned that their programs are watched or listened to by as many people as possible. Regarding programs made by minority producers there is a large demand among the viewers in their target groups. For these viewers, the programs transmitted by the Open Channel Berlin are often the only means by which to receive transmissions in their mother tongue. Thus, it is no wonder that as early as 1989 the Open Channel Berlin was known to 43 per cent of the immigrant and minority population, and that Turkish programs in particular were well received, scoring audience ratings of 17 per cent (cf. Roters: - Audience without Programs? ).
The willingness to produce and transmit programs by producers and the willingness of viewers to watch and listen form the preconditions for an intense exchange to take place between these two groups. By way of their engagement in the Open Channel Berlin the minority producer can move from the fringes of society into its centre. Producers quickly become public institutions whose views and opinions soon become part of the wider public domain. The public reacts and the producers realise that they are not alone with their views and understand that others have different views thus, through exercising freedom of expression; the producers learn and contribute to the political exchange in a democratic society.
Final remarks or the hopeful social integration
In the Open Channel Berlin producers coming from over 30 nations have transmitted their programs; in television a daily average of four hours of programs are transmitted in foreign languages, by radio a further 1.5 hours. Equal treatment and access by all persons has been the basis for the largely conflict free development of the Open Channel Berlin and the high percentage of foreign and minority producers who feel comfortable using this channel.
Berlin's Municipal Government Representative on behalf of Immigrant Minorities, Mrs. Barbara John, believes that an important part of the successful integration can indeed be attributed to the fact that many non-German groups have seized their opportunities in the Open Channel.
In the Open Channel Berlin, basic democratic values are a practical experience for the producers which they daily address through their own activities - and this is regardless of whether they are non-German or German. This experience unifies: You are me.
Federation of Open Channels
We, the members of the Federal Association of Open Channels, declare that
4th Convention of the German Open Channels 1997
We, the participants of the congress Open Channels for Europe!
Based on the above, we
Name and organization of signatories
Berlin's Public-Access Channel in Fight for Survival
Just weeks after its launch, a Munich-based TV news channel pushes for a cable slot in the capital, threatening the grassroots Offener Kanal.
By Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Berlin's only public-access TV station, the Offener Kanal, is fighting for its life in the face of pressure from the conservative Munich-based Pro Sieben TV group, which wants the grassroots station's cable slot for its Nachrichten 24 news channel, Offener Kanal boss Jurgen Linke said yesterday.
Breaking a 1999 Berlin campaign promise and siding with the Christian Democrats, who have long opposed the grassroots channel, Social Democratic spokesman Andreas Kohler last week said the channel, now 15 years old, was not relevant and "an experiment" that could be ended.
"I don't even need to speculate about what's going on here. It's clear that the impulse was N 24," Linke said. He denied the channel had become irrelevant, pointing to its multinational contribution to Berlin's international profile. "There are different criteria you could apply here, but just look at this one: Over the past years we've provided a platform for 30 different nationalities to broadcast in Berlin," he said.
The root of the problem is that Berlin offers only 33 cable-TV slots, making competition fierce. About 60 channels compete annually for the analog spots, said Susanne Grams, spokeswoman for the Medienanstalt Berlin Brandenburg. The authority says competition won't ease up until 2010, when most households are expected to have digital-TV reception. Pro Sieben spokesman Torsten Rossmann confirmed the station was seeking a capital city slot for N 24. Its round-the-clock news channel launched at the end of January.
"Of course, Berlin is for us a very important region, and we have a lasting interest in getting a cable channel," said Rossmann, speaking from the group's headquarters in Munich. "The decision how, and to what extent, to give us a channel hasn't been made yet. That's up to the Berlin media authorities. I can't comment on to what extent this decision will affect the Offener Kanal," Rossmann said.
Grams said while the media authority distributed channels, the decision whether to maintain the Offener Kanal was a political one.
Founded in 1985 and modeled on US public-access TV - which aims to further the freedom of speech of small, special-interest groups - the Offener Kanal provides a TV- and radio-broadcast platform for any legal German resident over the age of 18. It is one of over 70 such channels in Germany and broadcasts 110 hours a week. The channels provide voices in the media that are not dominated by commercial interests.
Opponents say the channel is out of date and a refuge for egomaniacs and the mentally disturbed. They argue the special-interest groups don't reflect society as a whole.
Channel boss Linke called critics "irresponsible" and said the station plays an important role in maintaining German democracy at a time when public confidence in politicians had been shaken with the revelation of CDU slush funds. "The Offener Kanal is relevant - particularly now, at a time when citizens are turned off from politics with this funding scandal, something the SPD has itself said," Linke maintained.
He dismissed speculation that financial reasons lay behind the move to close the channel, pointing out its 1.9 million mark annual subsidy was paid by licensing fees, not taxes. Nor did the SPD's argument that the Internet, not TV, was the proper forum for public discussion, make sense. "N 24 is already on the Internet. If the Internet is good enough for TV stations, why doesn't it just stay there?" asked Linke.