The Hans-Bredow-Institut was founded on 30 May 1950 by the then NWDR (Northwest German Broadcasting Corporation) and the University of Hamburg as a foundation legally responsible under civil law. The Institute was named after Hans Bredow (1879-1959), who had signally promoted the establishment of German broadcasting as State Secretary and Commissioner for Broadcasting in the Ministry of Posts in the Weimar Republic. In 1954, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his contribution to the establishment of the German broadcasting’s organisation structures.
The purpose of the Hans-Bredow-Institut as an independent, publically-accountable foundation is to conduct research into media, particularly in the areas of broadcasting, as well as of other electronic media, in an interdisciplinary fashion and to make the results available to scholarship, praxis and the public.
The beginnings were modest: everything began in the basement of the main building of Universität Hamburg, a year later the Institute moved to Rothenbaumchaussee, later on it moved to Heimhuder Straße 21, where the Institute and its library could be found for many years before the Institute moved back to Rothenbaumchaussee, now No. 36, in August 2013.
The Institute’s publishing house “Verlag Hans-Bredow-Institut” was founded for its inhouse publications. Soon, the scientific quarterly journal “Rundfunk und Fernsehen [Broadcasting and Television]” (today: Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft [Media & Communication Research], furthermore an academic series, the “Internationale Handbuch für Hörfunk und Fernsehen [International Handbook for Radio and Television]“ (today: Internationales Handbuch Medien [International Media Handbook]) und die “Hörwerke der Zeit [Radio Plays of the Time]“, which are literary significant radio plays. The library has been open to the public since its early days.
Establishing an institute for “broadcasting and television” took place without any role models; the need for academic findings in the area of radio and television, however, was increasing rapidly. Thus, the Institute was involved in establishing the audience research programme of the NWDR and, later on, in reviewing and analysing TV programmes. Members of the Institute taught at the university and transferred American empirical audience research to Germany for the first time. The study “Fernsehen im Leben der Erwachsenen [Television in Adult’s Lives]” was the first empirical project being published in 1968. In the 70s, research focused primarily on news and local communication; the concomitant scientific investigation of “Sesame Street”, however, gained great public interest as well.
Media research became much more significant with the transformation of media politics in the 80s and the introduction of private broadcasting. The Hans-Bredow-Institut was consulted for its expertise mainly due to its interdisciplinary competence based on the research combination of law and social studies, which was supported by the director Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem since 1979. The international network was extended and visitors from all over the world show that the Institute has been noticed internationally and sought as a communication partner. In the 90s, new media like computers, online media and the Internet became a research focus of the Institute. The Institute strengthened its commitment to investigate public communication in regard to all media, which was also amplified with changing its name: The institute "Broadcasting and Television" became the Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research, the journal "Rundfunk und Fernsehen [Broadcasting and Television]" became "Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft [Media & Communication Studies]" in the year 2000.
The interdisciplinary structure of the Institute’s research into media finds expression in the specialist orientation of its respective directors: from 1950-1967 a historian, in the person of Egmont Zechlin, was head of the Institute, from 1968-1970 an educationalist, in the person of Hans Wenke, from 1971-1979 a sociologist, in the person of Janpeter Kob. From 1979-1995, the Institute was led by academic lawyer Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem, from 1995-1998 by the political scientist and scholar of journalism and communication, Otfried Jarren.
Since the summer of 1998 the academic leadership of the Institute has resided in a directorate, which represents the two main pillars of the Institute’s work, research into media law and communications. Initially, Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem (until December, 1999), Otfried Jarren (until July, 2001) and the communications scholar Uwe Hasebrink belonged to it. Since July 2001, the Directorate has consisted of Uwe Hasebrink and the academic lawyer, Wolfgang Schulz(Chair).
More information on the history of the Institute (excerpts from the brochure celebrating the 50th birthday of the Hans-Bredow-Institut; in German only): the 50s (by Gerhard Maletzke), the 60s (by Dieter Ross), the 70s (by Will Teichert), the 80s (by Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem), the 90s (by Uwe Hasebrink).