Dr. Simone Sanftenberg: Television, radio and the internet in Rhineland-Palatinate: information for the region


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Television, radio, In­­­­­­­­ternet, politics, society cul­­­­ture, economics, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany and the world – these are the construction elements which make up the Südwestrundfunk (SWR) ‘building’. It stands on the foundation of its core tasks, „being up-to-date and regional“, in its daily reporting. Its radio and tele­­vision programmes, Internet content and teletext and its involvement in local events give Südwestrundfunk the po­­ten­­tial to reach every citizen in Rhine­land-Pala­ti­nate every day. SWR in Rhine­land-Pala­­tinate employs about 1000 freelance and full-time journalists, reporters, editors, presenters, technicians, set designers, media designers, secretaries, archivists and marketing specialists. They all work at the SWR ‘con­­­struction site’, translating the relevance of overriding contexts so that they fit the reality of life for the people in the state each and every day.

With its federal structure, the broadcaster ARD ensures that every state has a local broadcaster that – in contrast to nationwide media services – addresses its programme primarily at the viewer, listener or user in the state, in parallel to the national television network DAS ERSTE. SWR has held a top position in delivering the daily television news “Tages­­schau” and “Tagesthemen” for many years. Time and time again, it has succeeded in processing and presenting topics of national relevance to an audience of millions by following the example from the South-West. As the second largest ARD broadcasting organisation, the South-West region has a strong voice and recognisable face on German television. Broadcasting top films allows SWR to continue its success story by turning regional stories into national television events. Biographical films such as “Margarete Steiff” or “Stauf­fen­berg” have been particularly successful.

This method and combination ensures that, on the one hand, a complete program­­me composed of segments from all Ger­­man regions is created on Das Erste, while on the other, that every state has its own service run by the state for the state. This is SWR’s mission for South-West Germany, specifically the states of Baden-Württem­berg and Rhine­­land-Palatinate, for which the network bro­ad­casts two separate regional channels. The head office for Rhineland-Palatinate is located in Mainz. It is supported by five studios and seven regional offices through­­out the state, as well as technical service providers and contract producers that have a profound knowledge of Rhine­land-­Palati­nate and thus find additional infor­­mation, stories and interesting personalities for the editorial departments and authors of SWR, contributing to a more diverse schedule.

The media environment is currently cha­­racterised by a radical change that is ushe­­ring in the digital age; where working ac­­ross all three media is becoming the top priority for editorial departments; infor­­mation flows faster, requiring it to be pro­­cessed more quickly; and networks inter­­connecting the media, politics and business, culture and science are becoming ever more closely knit to provide compreh­­ensive public service broadcasting, based on up-to-date and sustainable research every day.

Only those who see and respect the people in their own living environment can support and guarantee the power of judgement and the decision-making ability of individuals in the fast-moving information society, thus streng­thening the capacity for democracy. The conclusion is that the state programme promotes, initiates and reflects the state’s culture in its regional form: a program­­me of proximity.

But what counts as close and what as regional? The producers of state program­­ming constantly revisit the question of the specifics of their state and how the des­­crip­­tive term of regionality can be im­­ple­­­­­mented in the schedule. The criteria for this are primarily the terms of cognitive, emotional and spacial proximity, which each lead to the question of whether the service touches the viewer in his living environment and accesses the reality of his life. A report is not a regional report simply because it takes place in the state or because its protagonist is from the state. The decisive factor is always that a particular, distinctive regional perspective is given to the topic, history, informa­­tion or entertainment presented. Only substantial knowledge of the state, only the sensitivity to examine and emphasise for the viewer, listener or user what is ex­­­­cep­­tional about his living environment, can make the pro­gram­­me by the region into a programme for the region.

The bottom line is that our state program­­ming consists of content that is relevant to the individual region – the presentation of living environments cannot be defined by geographical or political state boun­­daries. State culture does not take place in regional sections that can be divided into areas of reporting responsibility using objective formal criteria. Instead, state pro­­gramming has to get on the trail of emo­­tio­­nal and spacial proximity and ulti­­mately address the subjective term of ‘home’.

But home is not so easy to define these days. The world seems to have been turned upside down. You can be at home in an instant via e-mail from anywhere in the world, send photos by mobile phone across entire continents in a matter of seconds, jet back and forth or meet your neighbour in another country at short notice. The unknown seems to have be­­come seamlessly integrated into our daily routine, wherever it happens.

We adjust to these needs and developments – in terms of content, technically and also when it comes to the mod­­ernity of our service. However, adapting does not mean be­­coming superficial or taking on a speed which makes it impossible to look back and rushes us along the content highway in an unsustainable way. Instead, with its core business of providing regional information, our state programming can be understood as a market stall with services that create identity and provide reliability within continuously changing trends on this market of unlimited possibilities. To be clear, being regional should not be confused with being provincial. This would make us a dying breed on the market of possibilities, no longer be able to meet our formal obligations. Indeed, we would cease to be an alternative and would be unable to satisfy the need to trace home in a modern, innovative manner which is relevant to viewers, listeners and users.


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There is no such thing as a prescribed hierarchy between national and regional events; instead, we have to relate all events to the reality of life for people in our broadcasting area. In this, our role is to present regionality in a modern and authentic way – not in a boring way and certainly not from an arrogant distance.

So what does our stall have to offer? What makes it exceptional on the market? What is behind the prescription of state programming which creates regionality and proximity? “Tele­­­­vision, radio and the Internet in Rhine­land-Palatinate – information for the region” is the heading of these sentiments. This can be found in all three media: News from the state, the rest of Germany and the world around the clock, up-to-date, fast and well-re­­se­arched. TV magazines such as “Landes­schau”, which cover con­­texts every day and whose editors acco­­mpany people and their stories on events, their experiences and how they were af­­fected. Political programmes that consolidate and classify news topics. Eco­­nomic reporting, services from all cate­­gories, culture in a narrow sense, environmental topics, reli­­gion, sports, history and regular segments delivered by studio broadcasting from Koblenz, Lu­­d­­­wigs­hafen, Kaisers­­lautern, Trier and Mainz that substan­­tiate events in these areas and analyse them from a regional perspective. More­­­over, reports, features and discussions examine specific topics ex­­­­tensively in half-hour programmes. The aim is to process facts and situations in a distinc­­tive way, to contrast different aspects and to enable discussions, thus creating space for information and di­­versity that goes beyond a single report. The programmes also include entertain­ment, presenting state festivals and their traditions: the selection of the Deutsche Weinkönigin (wine queen) which is a ‘mat­­­­ter of honour’ that emphasises the huge voluntary commitments made within the state, as well as programmes pre­­sented predominantly in dialect, live co­­verage of events, concert feeds and much more. Ap­­art from the core, which consists of news and topicality, entertainment also makes an important contribution to community spirit in our state, living up to the iden­­tity-giving factor of our program­­ming in a relevant way.

This not only extensively describes what the ‘architects and builders’ working on the ‘construction’ of the SWR ‘building’ in­­­­ten­­ded; it also describes how many dif­­­­­fer­­ent trades have contributed to erec­­ting a solid building that possesses the won­­der­­ful property of always being at the heart of Rhineland-Palatinate, yet still ‘right next-­door’ to everything and everyone else …

 

_MG_2443-KopieThe author has a doctorate in law. She is admitted as a lawyer and has a teaching assignment for media law at Mainz University. From 1999 to 2002 she worked as the television assistant of the director of Deutsche Welle. Subsequently she was head of the television department ‘Land und Leute’ at SWR. Since June 2007 she has been regional broadcasting director for SWR in Rhineland-Palatinate.