Totalitarian regimes are known for many things but one of the first things they will do is control or limit access to information. The Soviet Union did this by taking total control of the media in Russia. All newspapers and publications had to conform to state guidelines and could only report what they were authorized to print. When the Nazi Party got control of Germany in 1933, they quickly instituted sweeping changes. Eliminating political opposition was a top priority as was controlling the information German citizens received on a daily or weekly basis.
The Reich Ministry of Propaganda began using print, radio, and newsreels to convince people about a Communist uprising. They had won seats in the last general election in 1932 (and the Nazi’s lost seats). It was this fear that Hitler used to create the votes needed for a majority to bring the Nazi’s to power in 1933. Thus, it would justify what would happen next. Having both legislative and executive powers thanks to the Enabling Act, Hitler could quickly create and implement new laws and regulations. Also having both the SA (Brown Shirts) and the SS on their side meant they had a ready-made method of dealing with opponents and dissidents.
Opponents such as Communists, trade unionists and others found their stores, offices, and homes targeted. With the police having been nullified due to mass firings and replaced by Nazi Party members, the former street thugs were now the law in Germany. Opposition press were specifically targeted with their printing presses destroyed. Independent newspapers found they were also targeted. The faced competition from the Nazi publishing house Franz Eher or a front for them that undercut with their own newspapers driving the independent into bankruptcy.
Franz Eher then would buy them up for almost nothing. Jewish owned media would be targeted as well. Its owners would be forced out and replaced by non-Jews. Ultimately, they would sell out at a very low price. The Mosse family, whose company was a world-wide advertising company that owned many liberal newspapers, fled Germany when Hitler came to power as did many of its journalists.
The only independent newspapers that would survive were ones owned by conservatives and non-political weeklies. They simply self-censored and complied with directives issued by the Propaganda Ministry. Nazi Germany tightened the screws with Editors Law of 4 Oct 1933. The Reich Association of German Press was put under the Reich Press Chamber, a part of the Propaganda Ministry. Members which were both journalists and editors, not only had to be racially pure but also abide by all mandates issued by the ministry.
They were required by law to not report anything that would weaken the Reich at home or abroad. Detailed guidelines were issued and failure to follow them meant, at the very least, you would be fired. If they believed you were acting contrary to Germany, you would be arrested and may end up in a concentration camp. Even listening to a foreign radio broadcasting classical music would get a visit from the Gestapo.
Under these conditions, there was no way for independent journalism to exist under Nazi rule.
Foreign Press in Nazi Party
The Nazi regime tolerated the foreign press but had conditions. If you wanted access to events and government officials, you had to be careful not to write news critical of Hitler and Third Reich. Otherwise you would be denied access, or expelled. So many journalists learned to live with this and allowed others back home to write pieces criticizing the regime. Generally, though they did not impose a lot of restrictions before war started in 1939. The Associated Press has been accused of going much further and collaborated with the regime by allowing them to select what pictures were to be used, and they used photographers acceptable to the Propaganda Ministry.
William Shirer was one the best-known correspondents from Germany during the 1930’s. He started in print and then later CBS radio. He witnessed and reported on many of the key events during this period. Once war began though, restrictions were placed on reporters on what they could report on (such as the British bombing of German cities). They were guidelines issued as what words to avoid when describing Germany, and you had to avoid news critical of the regime. To be fair, nearly all countries imposed media censorship during this time so Germany was not alone.
Shirer and other reporters usually submitted their written or recorded pieces to the Propaganda Ministry for approval. They would edit out anything that did not conform with policy before it could be sent out or broadcast from Germany. Which is what made what happened at the French surrender at Compiègne in 1940 so remarkable. William Shirer called up CBS in New York hoping the broadcast would go through. Now in Berlin the German engineers heard the call and assumed he had permission from the Propaganda Ministry and put it on shortwave. It was a coup for both Shirer and CBS. For six hours he was the sole reporter on the scene reporting to the world about the French surrender. Normally it would be recorded and then checked for errors by the Propaganda Ministry, where they could edit out anything they did not want to go out. Then it would be broadcast via shortwave to the world.
Germany during wartime wanted foreign journalists to often report official accounts they knew were incomplete or false. Shirer got wind he was under investigation for espionage and left Germany in December 1940. Most news organizations would leave as well except for the Associated Press which stayed until all foreign news organizations were expelled in 1941. That left the Propaganda Ministry in total control of reporting to the world news from Germany and countries they occupied.
Nazi Germany showed how a free press could be destroyed and turned into a vehicle for government policies. In many ways, they mimicked what the Soviet Union did. The free press was shut down and could only report what the government permitted. Both Communists and Fascists followed the same path towards controlling information when they are in charge. Neither believes in freedom, a free press, or individual liberties. They crush opponents ruthlessly, destroy all personal liberties, and attempt to control all aspects of their lives. We see that today with certain countries that restrict access to the Internet. And sadly, some Internet companies, in order to do business, agree to controls over the information access. We have yet to learn that aiding regimes in this manner only helps and emboldens them.