“New Variety”: Communication History Conference in Hamburg

The Annual Conference of the German Communication Association?s Communication History Division in 2015 took place in Hamburg 15-17 January under the theme “Neue Vielfalt” (“New Variety”) It was hosted by the newly renamed EMHIS partner institution “The Centre for Media History”, headed by Hans-Ulrich Wagner, at the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research and the University of Hamburg. 30 years after the establishment of commercial broadcasting in the Federal Republic of Germany, the conference dealt with diverse aspects of media pluralism and media competition in historical perspective. Therefore, twelve papers, presenting thoughts and results of current research projects, and two sessions with former media professionals, witnessing the early time of commercial radio and television in West Germany, explored the dimensions of variety with respect to media institutions, media professionals, media ensembles, and media content throughout the 20th century.

The doyen of communication history studies in Germany, Jürgen Wilke (emeritus professor of the University of Mainz), forinstance differentiated five key forces in or “determinants” of the process of media pluralisation in his initial keynote: technological, economical, professional (i.e. journalistic), societal, and political/legal developments. Usually, a combination of these – structural – determinants may be identified as driving forces of different states of plurality in media, Wilke said. Other presentations explored the role of specific actors, like journalists or politicians, and of cross-medial competition and their respective effects on the variety of media content or discussed the changing patterns of media usage.

I contributed to this with a talk about allegedly “illegitimate” competitors and impulses in West German radio history referring to the impact of foreign broadcasters on public-service radio programmes during the 1950s and 1960s. In general, phenomena from around 1900 to nowadays were of interest at the conference. Most papers focused on the German media system; in some case studies, however, the benefits of adding cross-border interrelations or trans-national as well as trans-medial dimensions – i.e. more or less the EMHIS approach – to the picture of “variety” and pluralisation in mass media history were discussed, too. It was assumed to be promising to widen the focus of research in this sense from time to time. Thus, it was a thought provoking meeting altogether. And moreover, as already mentioned here, during this conference I had the great honor of being presented the Young Scholar Award in Communication History 2015 by the German Communication Association.
// Christoph

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