Today we are already living the future of the information society. Digitalization and compression of data and information are spreading and they are speeding up production, memorization, and spreading of the audiovisual media. In the economy, segments that are realistically separated are merging: the computer industry and the entertainment electronics; the telephone associations and the media firms. We have integration of the conversational language, text, video, audio, telecommunications, entertainment electronics, and computer technology.
Information is moving quickly and transparently.
Traditionally, the press, radio, and television are identified as mass media. Their common characteristic is that they, through topical issues and technological means, address the anonymous public, which could be composed of a few thousand to a few million individuals.
Contrary to this is the individual communication between certain individuals (through telephone, e-mail).
So the boundaries between individual and mass communication have become flexible, thanks to technological development.
The functioning of the mass media is a complicated process that involves numerous factors, which are interdependent. Thus, the political influence of a certain daily depends on the editorial board and the public. In principle, the interplay between the media and their addressees are a small part of the communication process.
In a democracy, the mass media are assigned three mutual functions:
- a share in the shaping of opinion;
- control and criticism;
Other characteristics are entertainment and education.
The media are a rather complex system. The interesting thing with them is that, even though they have existed a very long time, they became a real subject of thorough analyses and research only a few decades ago.
The media, especially the mass media, are a mediating instance of the reality in our society. We broaden our horizons through them. They also enable us to get acquainted with the most distant regions on our planet. The media are everywhere around us and they are in different forms.
In the not so distant 1993 the renown German "Spiegel" wrote: "Imagine, there are over 300,000 dailies and magazines throughout the world; about 30,000 radio stations and approximately 3,000 TV stations are active. Some of them can be followed 24 hours. There is countless information in over 6,000 data banks… Planet Earth is surrounded by a huge information machine that is composed of senders and receivers, cables and computers."
Today the media simply confirm the necessity of the citizens being informed. But they present this as a need and legal right, which is actually one of the things that separate the media from the other social phenomena.
On the Development of the Media in Southeastern Europe
The changes in the social and political relations and practically the changes in the overall climate in southeastern European, that is, the introduction of parliamentary democracy and market economy, initiated development of the mass media. This opened new possibilities for the development and redefining of the media.
Throughout the whole process of establishing a stable media sphere, the structure and appearance of the existing image changed continually. New media appeared, while the old ones disappeared.
Parallel to this, we also had changes in the defining of the principles of the functioning of the media systems. The editorial nomenclatures and laws changed, and often very strange resolutions were adopted. In many countries these processes have still not been completed; in some countries they have not even begun.
But in all these processes, many questions were and still are being asked on whether the mass media met society's reasonable expectations. But there were also dilemmas on whether society itself met the media's expectations.
The tendencies in the establishing of the relations and characteristics of the media sphere (of the models in the region) followed the examples from the developed world. In most countries in the region it was concluded that there is increasing insistence on a firmly defined regulation in the broadcasting, and concrete and full deregulation of the printed media.
An additional burden in all these processes was the lack of adequate economic and technical characteristics and personnel resources.
But the characteristic thing for just about all countries in the region is that, when it comes to the functioning of the media, all swards were (and some still are) crossed over the issue of division of political power.
Just about all post-communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe, where the political scene was strictly idealized until recently, bear testimony to bad experiences and resolutions in the preparation of proper democratic norms of conduct in the media sphere.
Due to their fear of losing influence and power, for the champions of the changes in these countries the media turned into head offices of the former political structures with the aim of justifying the process of political and social transformation through their resolutions for the editorial strata.
So there is a need for the formation of a stable and operative media environment, which would condition autonomy of the media, financial independence, reputation, and professionalism. This practically necessitates argumentation in the reports, objectivity, and neutrality.
It is also important to know that the media can find its justification and assessment only before the judgment of the public. This raises the need for responsibility, which is required of the media as subjects and pioneers of social changes and events. This also prevents indirect and direct involvement and influence of the government (both political and economic) in the media's work.
So considering the changes that took place in the region, the local media structure needed a new construction, that is, formation of a new communication model that would recognize the new rules of functioning of the media and observe the aforementioned characteristics, cultural features, national characteristics, tradition, political and economic resources, and the education sources and features.
Finally, the media's crucial role in the establishing of a free, democratic, and civic society should turn them into some kind of criticizers and monitors of the government. It should also turn them into educators of the public for interethnic, inter-religious, and national tolerance and educators of the importance of human rights.
On the History of the German Printed Media
The history of the printed media, especially the history of the media in Germany, is quite interesting for observation, especially because of the specifics of the development of this sphere in the military and post-military period and the establishing and developing of the principles of functioning, which apply even today. This is interesting for presentation, especially because the WAZ Media Group is an active part of this history.
Undoubtedly, the strongest destructive moment that happened to the printed media (and humanity) is, of course, World War II. The immeasurable consequences for humanity and the ruinous and destructive energy that this war released shattered the printed media environment.
Namely, the density of the printed media in Germany during the Weimar Republic acquired certain diversity and quality, as a result of which it won recognition as far as North America and Great Britain.
Thus, there were 4,730 dailies in Germany in year 1930, making the ratio one daily per 15,381 inhabitants; this ratio in the United States was one daily per 61,000 inhabitants, while in Great Britain it was one daily per 177,270 inhabitants.
But in that period the German media had limited circulation, as a result of which 70 percent of the dailies had circulation of 5,000 samples. (Data taken from Struder 1933 und Liedtke, 1982)
The German media enjoys full freedom. It is the most serious printed media in Europe. The dailies are not sold for the sport news and information or because of individual commercial issues. For example, the dailies dedicated to the special interests of the working class also discuss problems in the economy and industry, and are not limited to daily news. Literature, theater, applied art, music, and economy take up a lot of space in the German dailies, much more than in some other countries. The views on the high characteristics of the German media are also presented in the Britannica Encyclopedia from year 1929. (cited from Hurvitz, 1972)
But this applies to the period before the regime of the national-socialists.
The national-socialist regime killed plurality in a very short period of time through the ban on the party printed media applied in year 1933, which implied repression of the Jewish media; through the special law that was brought in year 1933, which restricted the other publishers in their expression of their views; through the publishing of state national-socialist dailies; and finally with the freezing of all publications until the beginning of the war.
The arrival of Adolph Hitler's regime brought about the defeat of the independent, professional, and quality journalism. This state of real terror and misuse of the media as a phenomenon lasted until the end of the regime and the beginning of the process for reestablishing of the German media landscape.
The first decision on the way in which the German printed media should be renewed was made at the conference in Casablanca in January 1943. The aim of the war was determined here: unconditional capitulation of Germany and the other allies of the Axis. This was linked with the decision that the German printers and publishers should publish and produce only publications of the winners of the war. These steps were further elaborated at the conferences in Teheran (November 1943), Yalta (February 1945), and Potsdam (July 1945), when the five well-known stages for individual development of this sphere were also defined.
- Closing of all printing and publishing houses, and dismissal of all editorial boards;
- Issuing military publications in the corresponding zones of the allies;
- Issuing licenses for the publication of dailies and publications of non-politically oriented individuals;
- Control of the technological and personnel courses by the allies in their corresponding zones, and prevention of the progress of national-socialist thought;
- Gradual transfer of production and control of the results of the printed media to the Germans.
The practicing and establishing of the US model, whose aim was reeducation and education of the Germans, was especially important. All this also had an influence on the British and French practice.
I stress this data for the simple reason that all this is now happening in the countries of the former eastern bloc and the whole region of southeastern Europe.
Implicitly or explicitly, today's concepts for the establishing of free media in the countries of the former eastern bloc are also related to the ideas for reestablishment of the free media in Germany after year 1945.
The German printed media suffered great losses during World War II. After the war it was reestablished and it continued to function in accordance with principled democratic criteria.
When they planned the principles of functioning and the processes for issuing licenses in year 1945, the Western allies proceeded from the idea of forming a new type of printed media in Germany. Namely, these would be dailies that would serve as a means of information. They would also be a sort of instrument for developing public opinion on democracy, which practically encompassed something more than just strict division into news and commentaries.
This is how the German post-war printed media started to develop.
Today the German media environment is characterized by high professionalism and quality, as well as high ethical standards of functioning.
WAZ, the Principles of Its Functioning and Its Role in the Region
The WAZ Media Group started to function in year 1948 through its publication, which is also the recognizable logo of the company today: Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
Thus, the history of the WAZ Media Group is linked to the successful history of the daily Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which has a circulation of approximately 675,000, making it one of the most successful regional dailies in Europe at the moment.
Today the WAZ Media Group, which is situated in Essen, in the center of the Ruhr region in the Federal Republic of Germany, is one of the most respectable media houses in Europe. There are years of continual development behind WAZ.
The main business segment of the WAZ Media Group is the dailies, with special interest for specialized magazines, classified adds, radio broadcasting, and the web.
WAZ has over 12,000 employees throughout Europe. WAZ also has a share in the most successful TV channel RTL and it has 536 printed titles (34 dailies, four TV supplements, 108 popular magazines and special editions, 140 advertisers (classified adds), and 250 customer magazines in nine European countries).
In the middle of the 1990s WAZ became active in the Southeastern European region by investing in publishing houses and printing capacities.
Everyday the region in which WAZ is investing is getting closer and closer to the already integrated part of Europe. Precisely foreign investments should play a role in this process with the aim of speeding up this region's integration into the European Union. They should do share the Western experiences and dedicate themselves to establishing stable and democratically supported media principles.
This raises the need for something that is very important in the work of WAZ: partnership based on trust and sincere sharing of experiences. Trust grows with positive experiences. With its operation, WAZ stands against prejudices and superficiality, sometimes even against the practice conditioned by an ideological assessment.
Southeastern Europe needs development of the overall social structure, which practically means that it needs development of all segments of society. The media are not and should not be the exception. They should establish the already confirmed values of democratic public conduct, which are characteristic of the Western societies.
In other words, the fight against nepotism, abuse of power, bribes, and corruption – problems that are evident in the countries from the region – need critical media.
Democratization lives of the free media and it is fundamentally secured by them.
We should resist the pressure on the media in the transition societies, and that takes self-confidence and courage at times. WAZ Media Group has them both.
Thus, WAZ's investments in the media of Southeast Europe are of common interest. We all know well that without stability in the Balkans there will be no economic progress and no integration with the EU structures. But this could also by worded in this way: Without an economic progress, there will be no stability. Therefore, I kept saying all along that it was the media that had the key to these processes. They are the key to cooperation of the countries of the region and of sharing information and experience. This is why WAZ's presence in the countries of Southeast Europe is of great importance, which is all the more so considering that WAZ brings know how too, which it combines with the positive experiences of its partners.
As it progressed, WAZ kept close watch of the options developing on the market and took actions accordingly. What connects in a way all these investments and partnerships of WAZ is the objective common for the whole region: creating stable grounds for development of independent media, elevating the journalism standard and determining all those definitions which this profession incorporates, as well as promoting the true values in the region and its qualities.
Thus, through active cooperation of the media of the region with foreign partners, their stability and independence and consequently their positive influence in strengthening the social and government institutions is secured. There is no better illustration of the openness of a country or society to the world than the profile and contents of its media.
WAZ offered a fresh start to a great many publications from the region of Southeast Europe. It became a partner to a lot of publishing houses from the region of Southeast Europe, thereby promoting highly professional publishing, proven European principles of work and models of quality and responsible conduct in the media and establishing active partnership.
In the region of Southeast Europe, WAZ is present in Hungary through its partnership with Pannon Lapok, in Bulgaria through its partnership with Trud and 24 Casa, in Croatia through Europe Press Holding, in Serbia through Politika, in Vojvodina through Dnevnik, in Romania through National and Romania Libera, in Montenegro though Vijesti and in Macedonia through Dnevnik, Utrinski Vesnik and Vest.
Bearing in mind the mid-term future, WAZ invests, taking measures of reorganization, modernization and optimization of marketing structures and technical supplies. WAZ is convinced that the development of the democratic political structures is the fundamental determinant for the economic development, which is getting more evident and real.
Thus, although WAZ Group's newspapers are quite successful on the market, WAZ has to grow further, with its own opportunities for the sake of being competitive. WAZ simply builds bridges of international cooperation in every way. WAZ functions through the effect of synergy, with an already defined purposive strategy of expansion, i.e. with a model, which has serious journalism based on journalist freedom as its base.
With the identification and through the advantages of the effects of the synergy in the media business, the desks of the assorted daily newspapers and magazines are in the position to keep their independence. And this is what is known as the WAZ model, established as early as 1976 and functioning successfully ever since. One of Its core ideas is forming independent desks guaranteeing diversity of thought in the partner country.
So, WAZ's operating principle, or operating model if you prefer, is clear and practical, having resulted from good analyses. It is the principle of synergy, which implies blending of printing capacities, distribution and marketing, which all function fully independently of the desks. Or, if you prefer, the other way round too. WAZ guarantees independent desks, completely free from the burden of printing, marketing or distribution, in other words, free from bureaucracy.
It is worth mentioning that in its relation with the desks, WAZ follows the principles of the OSCE. Only WAZ and the Norwegian publishing company Orkla Media have so far signed the joint code of conduct, which includes among the others the following principles:
- protecting the basic human rights;
- protecting the fundamental human rights, the parliamentarian system and the international understanding, as in fact stipulated by the UN Charter;
- fighting totalitarian activities of any political tendency;
- fighting national and racial discrimination.
WAZ signed the charter of the OSCE also because it is active in Southeast Europe, part in which most of the countries are in transition, in terms of both strengthening their democracy and developing their market economy. It is worth underlining that with this charter WAZ lets the OSCE be the arbiter of its performance. The obligation for observance of the OSCE principles, as a result of the agreement signed with it, outlined and defined our position.
By accepting the principles of the OSCE, i.e. by promoting democratization, protection of human rights, European orientation, etc, it happens in a way that the OSCE undertakes part of the editorial responsibility in the capacity of observer and critic of the possible violation of principles.
Attaining the OSCE goals and our overall engagement brings as a success only one thing: quality journalism! I consider the OSCE principles the most important and best known in Southeast Europe. They are also a firm consensus to all.
Europe grows thanks to joining forces and it is quite normal for the media concerns to expand beyond their borders. It is important in the process, from our point of view, to respect democracy and its values.
The great media (papers, national radio and television stations) intended for the general public (this refers to the major publishing houses, such as WAZ, too) perform several functions - educational, cultural and service-rendering. They bear certain responsibility in creating the country's system of values. WAZ, as one of the greatest and most respected publishing houses in Europe raises this responsibility to the level of general standards. They are standards that media should observe in their work: thorough, truthful, understandable and clear presentation of daily events in a context on which their relevance depends; providing a clear picture of the relevant groups in the society; explaining the social goals and values. They should be in fact a forum for sharing comments and criticisms and a mainstay for public expression. This is the concept for unbiased and independent media.