PhD Project: Awards for Democracy?The Adolf Grimme Prize, Education and the Market in West-German Television, 1964-2000

The television age began with high hopes. The new leading medium was supposed to serve democratisation, and nowhere was this claim reflected more than in the Adolf Grimme Prize. Endowed by the German Adult Education Association and awarded for the first time in 1964, its quality criteria have always been aimed at „popular education”. In the decades that followed, television changed fundamentally: While the president of the Volkshochschulverband (Adult Education Association) initially considered it the „most important instrument of political education”, by the turn of the millennium it was regarded only as a „medium of dispersed privacy”.

This PhD project examines the ways in which television has been taken into service of democratization and how this has changed since the 1960s. It is thus dedicated to the media-social history of the German Federal Republic. Taking a close look at the Adolf Grimme Prize provides for insights into the development of post-National Socialist attempts to control television and its viewers as well as the detachment of the mass media from this elite project. For the first time, the practices of the Adolf Grimme Prize and the communication following the award ceremonies are examined based on historical sources. In doing so, a network of pedagogically based television critique comes into view. Set up and developed by Bert Donnepp, the director of the Marl Volkshochschule „die insel”, it extended from adult education through politics, the media and churches to the universities.

How did the ideas of these actors change, and how did their television critique resonate with the general public and the broadcasters? The tension between the quality demands of the Volkshochschulen (Adult Education Centers) and the programs offered by television makes the conflict between actors and recipients of political education empirically tangible. The dynamic between the democracy-ambitioned critics of the television program and those who were criticized also allows to determine the significance of commercial television, which was advertised as being „close to the people”.