Censorship in Germany  

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--Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand (1827) by Heinrich Heine

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Censorship in Germany has taken many forms during the history of the region. Various regimes have restricted the press, theatre, cinema, and other entertainment venues.


German Empire (1871-1919)

In the German Empire, many media were under Imperial control. Before World War I, civil administrators appointed by the government were charged with ensuring the public decency of printed material within the Empire.

The Imperial Press Law of 1874 ended the government's right to censor materials before publishing. It also eliminated the need for a government-issued license to publish. However, the government retained the right to be notified of all publications as soon as printing began. Theatres, cinemas, cabarets, and music halls, however, were still subject to state licensing. Police had direct control over these venues.

With the outbreak of World War I, the military took over the censorship office with the aim of mobilizing German support for the war. A police official was instated in every city for this purpose. Restrictions on materials became much harsher. Materials could be banned because of association with a particular person or country, or simply because the censor felt that the piece was distracting or a waste of time.

Weimar Republic (1919-1933)

Article 118 of the Weimar constitution forbade censorship with the text "No censorship will take place". The only exception to this article was film. The film and cinema industry was regulated by the Film Assessment Headquarters. The purpose of this organization was to censor films released in Germany for pornography and other indecent content.

The 'Gesetz zur Bewahrung der Jugend vor Schund- und Schmutzschriften' (Law for the Protection of Youth from Trash and Filth Writings) from the 18th of December, 1926 provided for the censorship of printed materials in the interest of youth welfare. However, it forbade the censorship of printed materials for political, social, religious, ethical, or world-view-related reasons.<ref>Reichsgesetzblatt Nr. 67 vom 24. Dezember 1926, S. 505-506</ref>

Nazi Germany (1933-1945)

Censorship in Nazi Germany

Censorship in Nazi Germany was implemented by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. All media -- literature, music, newspapers, and public events -- were censored. Attempts were also made to censor private communications, such as mail and even private conversation, with mixed results.

The aim of censorship under the Nazi regime was simple: to reinforce Nazi power and to suppress opposing viewpoints and information. Punishments ranged from banning of presentation and publishing of works to deportation, imprisonment, or even execution in a concentration camp.

Hitler outlined his theory of propaganda and censorship in Mein Kampf:

"The chief function of propaganda is to convince the masses, whose slowness of understanding needs to be given time so they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on their mind."

West Germany (1945-1989)

During the post-war period the West German media were subject to censorship by the Allied occupational forces. Criticism of the occupational forces and of the emerging government were not tolerated. Publications which were expected to have a negative effect on the general public were not printed. A list of over 30,000 titles, including works by such authors as von Clausewitz, was drawn up. All the millions of copies of these books were to be confiscated and destroyed. The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order in principle was no different from the Nazi book burnings.

When the official government, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), took over, these limits were relaxed. The new German constitution guaranteed freedom of press, speech, and opinion.

An index of harmful materials listed those subjects and materials which are restricted in publishing and exhibition. These restrictions focused largely on material which could be harmful to minors, and included protections of personal dignity. Materials written or printed by organizations ruled to be anti-constitutional, such as Nazi organizations or the Baader-Meinhof Gang, were placed on the index.

The government also passed laws restricting the trade of materials considered Volksverhetzung and forbidding the public expression of Holocaust denial.

East Germany (1945-1989)

Censorship in East Germany, the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) was widely implemented. Licenses were required to publish any material, and permission was required to exhibit or perform any visual art. In addition, journalists without government approval were not hired. Censorship was implemented both before and after publication of a work.

The primary goal of East German censorship was to protect the interests of Communism and its implementation. Works critical of the East German or the Soviet governments were forbidden, as were any works which seemed sympathetic to fascism.

Punishments were levied against dissenters to the censorship laws, up to and including deportation to West Germany.

After reunification (1989-present)

Because Germany kept the West German constitution after reunification, the same protections and restrictions as in West Germany apply to contemporary Germany. Continued globalization and the advent of internet marketing present a new host of complications to German censorship and information laws.

There are four reasons for censorship or information and media control:

  • A decision of a court that assumes that a publication is violating another person's personal rights (a newspaper for example can be forced not to publish pictures of privacy anymore).
  • All forms of movie ratings (also for computer games but not for books) motivated by youth protection.
  • Media that is assumed to be very harmful to youth is indexed by the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons). These publications are restricted in marketing but not de jure censored in general. Indexing can grant publicity but is often tried to prevent. It should be noted that the reduced violence in some German versions of movies and games that carry a USK rating have in fact not been censored, but the companies releasing them have decided themselves to remove certain content in order to make the media available to a wider audience.
  • Publications violating laws (that restrict freedom of speech in general) can be censored; their authors can be penalised. Such restrictions are Volksverhetzung, slander and libel (which are in Germany Beleidigung, Verleumdung and Üble Nachrede). Especially Üble Nachrede (defamatory statement) scarcely causes censorship. Üble Nachrede (Defamatory statement) means violating personal rights by spreading gossip/news which are neither evidentially true or false.

Membership in a Nazi party, incitement of hatred against a segment of the population (Volksverhetzung) and Holocaust denial are illegal in Germany. Publishing, television, public correspondence (including lectures), and music are censored accordingly, with harsh legal consequences, including jail time.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Censorship in Germany" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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