How Propaganda Trumped the Press
The first job of a repressive regime is to repress and control. When Adolf Hitler took office in 1933 with a minority of the popular vote, the Nazis controlled less than 3% of Germany’s 4,700 newspapers. However, the special decrees that enforced censorship under the emerging one-party system effectively caused hundreds of papers produced by outlawed political parties to close. During the following months, the Nazis established control over the large majority of independent press organizations, leading to the creation of the Propaganda Ministry.
Using their control of radio, press, and newsreels to build fears of the enemies within Germany enabled the Nazis to manipulate the public into political measures that destroyed Germany’s already fragile civil liberties and democracy. Nazi thugs were licensed to unlawfully attack opposing political party offices, destroying printing presses and newspapers.
Under the guise of an independent business, one of the Nazi Party–owned publishing houses, Franz Eher Nachfolger (or Eher-Verlag), established a monopoly that eliminated what was left of the competition. Some publishers did, however, remain on newsstands by administering self-censorship and publishing only Nazi-sanctioned stories.
Dissolution and Reorganization
The main Jewish-owned publishing houses, Ullstein and Mosse, were appropriated by the Nazis. In 1933, German officials forced the Ullstein family to resign from the board of the company and, a year later, to sell the company assets. Owners of a worldwide advertising agency, the Mosse family, who published the popular Berlin Tageblatt, left Germany. Their holdings were given to non-Jewish owners.
The Propaganda Ministry formed the Reich Press Chamber, one of many such “Chambers” to control the free exchange of information. Under the new Editors Law of Oct. 4, 1933, registries of “racially pure” editors and journalists were maintained (not unlike our own Red Channels blacklist that prevented suspected Communists from working in theater, television and film). To work as an editor or journalist, registration with the Reich Press Chamber was mandatory. The Nazi government required editors to omit anything “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”
The Propaganda Ministry also proscribed news and editorial pages through directives distributed in daily press conferences, issuing guidelines for what stories could be reported and how to report the news. These decrees were eventually codified in Deutsche Press beginning in 1939 and published by Verlag Franz Eher.
It may seem like splitting hairs, but rather than suppressing news, the Nazi propaganda system tightly controlled its flow and interpretation and denied access to alternative sources of news in the press, radio and newsreels.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →