Censorship at SFB/ the coverage of the murder trial of a lesbian couple/ The first autonomous group for women media professionals in Germany forms
Lyrics of This Song is for Dr. A.
Magdalena Kemper was one of the founders of the media group at the Berlin women’s center, and in subsequent years remained active in women’s media politics. She had studied journalism in Munich and Berlin and began working as a freelance reporter for SFB[i] Youth Radio in Berlin. She worked at the station for many years on the staff of Zeitpunkte. The broadcaster is now called rbb[ii]
Magdalena Kemper 1973
and the working conditions there have deteriorated substantially. The following conversation took place in 1996. The first thing I asked her was whether it was true that she had had to censor her own program on the 1973 hunger strike. Magdalena Kemper confirmed that this was the case:
That’s the way it was. It was Youth Radio, and Youth Radio was always done on site, whether the topic was the hunger strike, abortion or squatted houses, the Tommy Weisbecker Haus. This also applied to all those Bambule [noisy protest] stories about group homes; Youth Radio was always there. And so it was Youth Radio that was always being dragged in front of the Broadcasting Council, they called it Red Cell SFB, Communists, and every program had to be approved in advance and the interventions were harsh, I must say. Awful!
– Do you recall what you had to cut?
– No, but in those days they had a pretty broad definition of “incitement to violence.”
– Then a long article by Monika Mengel appeared in the Spandauer Volksblatt, there were already three of us …
– …and then the three of us started the women’s media group.
Founding the media group
The first list of women journalists was compiled on the occasion of the first women’s film seminar at the Arsenal Cinema. We sent out the first invitations using this list and a few contacts of our own.
Helke Sander, Gesine Strempel [SFB], Hilke Schlaeger [RIAS], Lea Rosh [NDR], Sophie Behr [Der Spiegel] and Johanna Schickentanz [ZDF] came — yes, it was a fairly prominent and wide-ranging group. Ricky Kalbe [photographer], Ricky Mateyka [Der Abend], Christel Sudau [SZ], and finally Alice Schwarzer as well.
What I still find so fascinating about this media group— I founded a lot of other media groups afterwards: the Association of Women Journalists, the SFB women’s media group— is that so many different milieus collided here: you and Monika Mengel from the alternative women’s scene, then Sophie Behr—at the time a well-established editor at Spiegel magazine, she had piles of money and an image too. Hilke Schlaeger was already well known as a producer of cultural programming at RIAS. The spectrum was fascinating; I never experienced anything like it again. The age range was also huge.
I can still remember Sophie’s report in Spiegel on the first big women’s party Tanz in den Mai [Dance into May], in which she did her best to write in solidarity—as she understood it—and she loved the party and attempted to report on the first women’s party in a spirit of solidarity while maintaining the typical Spiegel style, which couldn’t possibly succeed. It was a disaster! She used every cliché, and the clichés differed not one whit from those in the Springer press. But Sophie genuinely meant well.
– I can still remember the silence that fell when she read it aloud to us. We were all thinking to ourselves, how can we tell her?
– This never happened in subsequent groups, there were no longer any women from DerSpiegel. But it was different at the beginning, people were curious about each other, which also had to do with the times. Sophie profited enormously from us. I know that Hilke, who moved back and forth between book fairs, cultural conferences and festival weeks, also greatly enjoyed being together for once with women who were ten or fifteen years younger and didn’t work in the culture business but at the feminist grassroots that the media were always talking about. I notice this now as an editor, that there are many things I’m not intimately connected with anymore; I read about them and maybe attend an event if I’m not too tired in the evenings, but I don’t know many of the young women now.
Complaint to the Press Council
Our new women’s media group got involved in the context of the Itzehoe trial against Marion Ihns and Judy Andersen—a lesbian couple who jointly planned the murder of Marion Ihn’s abusive husband and hired a killer to carry it out. The BILD newspaper attacked the women using the vilest anti-lesbian slurs. Our media group formulated a complaint to the Press Council and demanded that it condemn the discriminatory coverage, an action that was to have consequences for Magdalena Kemper:
It was really quite remarkable to sit down and submit a complaint to the German Press Council. And it was quite a big deal for me—for personal reasons— to go door-to-door as a little freelancer here at SFB, collecting signatures to the complaint from my female colleagues. It was extremely interesting to see which ones signed and which didn’t. It was by no means the case that the women involved in programming for women all signed; they found it much too controversial. In contrast, there was an older colleague—now long since retired— who did educational radio for the schools, and for her it went without saying. Another from women’s television programming was dead set against signing. And it was perfectly plain what the BILD newspaper had written.
In Alice Schwarzer’s memoir this journalistic action appears more or less as hers alone, but that was not the case. It began in Berlin and it was our idea. Alice participated and helped write the press release, I can remember her with the typewriter on her lap, but it was not a one-woman show.
“Aha, another one of those”
“Was walking around with this petition also a kind of coming-out for you at the station?” I ask Magdalena Kemper:
It wasn’t a coming-out; that happened a good deal later. That was exactly what I feared, that my colleagues would say, ‘Aha, another one of those.’ And that was how it was. I found out much later that the argument that I was not merely a feminist but a lesbian too had been used against me during my first application to SFB. Those were different times. A colleague wouldn’t be treated like that nowadays. At least I hope not! I only found this out years later and I am very happy I didn’t know at the time.
On the other hand, it was a revelation; I also met the woman I was together with for fourteen years in the media group, let’s not forget that. To that extent it was also a bit difficult in one way (laughs) and in another it was a giant leap.
I had never had much interest in the women’s movement before. I came from Munich, after all, where I was in the AK—Arbeitskonferenz—a left-wing, very academic organization. I underwent my ideological training and my candidate plenaries, but didn’t care about the women’s movement. But I did follow Alice’s abortion action in Stern magazine with great interest. And I must say, it was basically through the two of us meeting and founding the media group that everything really began for me. To that degree I owe you a lot, I really mean it.
The Women’s Media Groups at ARD and ZDF and
the Association of Women Journalists
Our media group was a pioneer and we had emulators over the years in other media institutions. According to Magdalena Kemper:
The first to be founded were the women’s media groups at ARD and ZDF, successively beginning in 1975: first at WDR, then Hessian Broadcasting and later in Berlin. Hilke Schlaeger co-founded the RIAS women’s group and we started the SFB group, whose members included not just journalists but also film editors, program assistants and secretaries. Every year at the autumn meeting of the media women from ARD and ZDF they present the “Saure Gurke” award [for the most sexist television program] based on our observations of programming. The “Saure Gurke” is still quite a media success and incidentally the brainchild of one of our group members, Sabine Zurmühl.
Then we founded the Association of Women Journalists, which is organized rather conventionally with an executive board and regional groups—a very active group in Berlin that meets once a month. The good thing about this group is that a lot of young women are involved. It is not a professional association in the usual sense, but a feminist organization of women in journalism and provides a network that actually functions in the meantime. For example, this is where I find out that the new minister of women’s affairs in Schleswig-Holstein is looking for a press aide, and people ask for possible candidates. There are simply a few women now who have such positions and who let each other know when there are openings and what they have to keep in mind. It isn’t just the old boys’ network anymore. The young women in the Association of Women Journalists are often sick of hearing the old feminist debates, though. They have different problems: new media, part-time work, having to work several jobs at the same time in order to get by. Questions like abortion rights or how the media portray women still interest the veterans. But I have to say, these veterans usually have permanent positions where they earn their money every month. The young women are struggling, though. If they have the choice between a gender studies event and further training in digital editing, they are sure to opt for digital editing.
The situation of women journalists
In order to refresh my memory, I browsed the minutes of the media group meetings, which Ricky Kalbe has carefully preserved. I found some things there that cast a sharp light on the working conditions of committed women journalists in those days. In 1974, for example, Magdalena Kemper put to paper the following “Notes on the founding and motivation of the media group”:
a) Professional status of journalists, especially freelancers
The occupational situation of freelancers in particular is reminiscent of feudal conditions: work is only paid for upon completion, there are no contracts, fixed working hours or employment protections, the employer is not obliged to make social insurance contributions and there are a lot of unemployed journalists. Concretely speaking, any vacation or longer illness means not just a complete loss of earnings but also the danger of not getting commissions because they go to new people instead. This economic insecurity produces a latent enmity among journalists because they are in permanent competition with one another. This insecurity also continues to promote a high degree of conformism, however, since freelancers depend on the will and whims of producers, who in turn are subject to massive pressure from above. Frequently, the unconditional willingness to compromise gradually exceeds what is politically feasible. Journalists internalize press censorship.
b) Situation for women in the media industry
Frequently, women are pushed from the outset into so-called female areas: the church, women’s radio, children, youth, features. Ironically enough, especially when dealing with women’s topics, they are then accused of being “biased,” incapable of objectivity, overemotional etc…
The solidarity among established women journalists, producers and department heads is a fine thing but rare, perhaps because those women only managed to scale the career ladder by sacrificing their own standards and now go along with male demands. Unfortunately we, too, occasionally internalize men’s chauvinistic preconceptions: Like Gesine Strempel, who only gradually came to realize that her programs were no worse, but had been rejected because she was a woman and was therefore accustomed to assume that criticism from men was justified. Or Ricky Mateyka, who was told at Der Abend, “If you want to be involved in a male profession as a woman, you will also have to be more productive.”
In the context of an appeal for women to submit accounts of their experiences for a Black Book on the Male Media, the media group asked colleagues about subtle forms of discrimination:
Perhaps you feel compelled not just to write well but also to be well made-up? Perhaps you also frequently feel excluded when your worthy male colleagues prefer to handle matters “among men” at work or their local bar? Perhaps you also feel it is your duty to respond to come-ons in a conciliatory manner?
In 1974, Marielouise Jurreit complained of another subtle form of discrimination, namely the lack of solidarity from older, established women journalists:
An example from Bonn: It was possible for a woman journalist to establish herself as a correspondent here in the 1950s because there were still gaps in the labor market. It is rather doubtful whether well-known women journalists from the liberal camp who spent their whole lives as lone wolves (e.g. Marion Dönhoff, Julia Dingwort-Nussack, Eva Windmöller or Ursula von Kardorff) would have had career advancement opportunities in today’s market—though many of them were always proud of not being downtrodden women, and even today deny the existence of a women’s question in journalism.[v]
The media women were self-critical, but also began vehemently opposing the widespread practice in those days of not allowing women to report on women’s issues. According to Marielouise Jurreit:
We should not let men write and create programming about our emancipation just because the topic of women’s liberation has attained a certain intellectual aura. In the past, major television programs about emancipation were made almost exclusively by men (Gerhard Bott,[vi] Wilhelm Bittorf[vii]), who however much they tried defined emancipation solely from a male perspective and produced a good deal of misinformation in the process. It is simply wrong when women who understand something of women’s matters and who can back up their opinions are compelled to make way for uninformed men (women were accused of inability to be objective).[viii]
And she demanded of broadcasters:
We want to be represented on a permanent basis in all political magazines and discussion programs (Journalisten fragen—Politiker antworten, Monitor, Kontrovers, Pro und Kontra, Bericht aus Bonn, science and business programs, news commentary). We must counter the oft-raised argument that no woman was available with our membership list, sending it to all of the relevant TV editorial departments.[ix]
One could use the list of television editorial departments with no female staff at the time to test how much progress has been made. Doubtless there has been some. However, she also mentions politically controversial fields, such as news commentary, which are still (all but) closed to women.
Other women journalists were very much interested in our media group. Should we expand? After all, the group already consisted of fifteen women with widely fluctuating attendance. Helke Sander wrote in the minutes for September 23, 1974:
What speaks against it is the possible splintering and diffuseness, since we already barely know each other as it is…. The factors in favor of expansion are:
a) the large number of interested women…
b) the possibility that women with permanent positions but also freelancers with regular commissions can expect increasing difficulties and already encounter them, because they are suspected of being members of media groups or express opinions that are too passionate or firm on certain matters. That is why we need to prepare for solidarity, which under some circumstances can become necessary very quickly.
We get fired
Three of us got the ax in one year: Monika Mengel lost her job at the Spandauer Volksblatt newspaper in 1974, as did Ricky Mateyka at Der Abend, and early in 1975 I was fired as a director by ZDF television.
My story illustrates what Magdalena Kemper calls the “dilemma of the freelancers,” who are dependent on editors and producers who in turn feel themselves under pressure. My commissioning editor at ZDF, Dr. Alexandra von Grote, had commissioned a contribution from me and Cillie Rentmeister for ZDF’s Kleines Fernsehspiel for International Women’s Year (1975). She wanted a film about lesbian love, an incredibly brave decision, especially since Ms. von Grote is herself a lesbian. We wrote the script for Anna & Edith, it was accepted and I could name a production company I wanted to make it with. Naturally I chose Regina Ziegler, in those days one of the very first women in the business. I chose the actresses and put together a team: we found a camerawoman in Paris—Nurith Aviv; I hired a couple of gay men for sound, etc.
Then we traveled to Crete, read Elizabeth Gould Davis’s book The First Sex about theories of matriarchy and I wore a gold labrys around my neck at my next meeting with Ms. von Grote who reacted with great annoyance to my explanation that the labrys was a matriarchal symbol. At that point I was fired without notice on the grounds that one of the song texts in the film was too inflammatory. While we saw no problem with changing it, they refused to let us do so. Ms. von Grote immediately hired a man to direct this lesbian film. And that was how it was made.
The union got me an appointment with a law office specialized in media law. The outcome: since we had already been paid for our work on the script it was now the property of ZDF and the station could do whatever it wanted with it. The only right left to an author was to insist that her name not be mentioned. I was presented with the same choice three years later, once again by a feminist commissioning editor, by the way. If the editorial department no longer has confidence in a director that is reason enough to refuse a contract to a freelancer. All perfectly logical.
Nonetheless there were people who thought I should go to court. One colleague advised me to ask someone at the political desk at ZDF for advice. He told me I would automatically end up on the black list and would never work for them again.
Years later Alexandra von Grote tried to explain her conduct, which she had come to regret, after having seen my next film The Power of Men is the Patience of Women. She had suddenly become afraid of her own daring, and didn’t want to be held responsible if a lesbian film—the first one ever made for television—turned out to have a feminist slant as well. Incidentally, barely any changes were made to the teleplay, except for a few tired jokes inserted to loosen up the very straightforward left-wing-feminist thrust. Unfortunately, the production itself ended up being rather wooden.
In closing, another typical example from the world of television in those days: When I offered a commissioning editor from Program 3 at SFB a program about the Flying Lesbians—Europe’s first women’s rock band, after all—he told me, “We’ve already done women’s topics; we had something about abortion rights this year.”
After the conflict with Alexandra von Grote, Cillie Rentmeister wrote the following song, which points well beyond the individual instance to a phenomenon we observed repeatedly among “women in high places”:
This song is for Dr. A
And all the women nobody notices
are men — in their heads
A song for all the women
in high places in the male state
who support the dominance of men
who support their dominance
If women seek power in the male state
watch out for yourselves
There’s something rotten going on
and they may betray you
Tell me, what price success?
You’ve paid a high price
How much betrayal of other women,
and how much self-betrayal?
Tell me, what compromises
have you made, what took you
to the top of the heap?
How many assholes have you
given a friendly smile?
Don’t tell me it was all for women’s good
It was all for women’s good.
I don’t believe
You’re as strong as you act!
I’ve heard you talking like a machine gun
I’ve seen as plain as day
How your hands shake despite the cigarette
And Valium ten
You don’t have to go to bed with a man
To prostitute yourself
You’ve a different innocence to lose
And there are so many ways
to sell yourself
Your labor and your face
and your gender.[x]
[i] Sender Freies Berlin.
[ii] Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg.
[v] Marielouise Jurreit, “Vorschlag zur Gründung eines Journalistinnenverbandes,” 1974.
[vi] Gerhard Bott, Der Mann muss hinaus ins feindliche Leben, ARD, February 7, 1971.
[vii] Wilhelm Bittorf, “Die unzufriedenen Frauen,” on Zeichen der Zeit, SDR, February 7, 1963.
[viii] Jurreit, “Vorschlag.”
[ix] Jurreit, “Vorschlag.
[x] “Für Frau Dr. A,” Flying Lesbians, Berlin, 1975.