With the establishment of the internet as publicly accessible and widely used communication platform the question arises if the internet influences or substitutes the function of press and broadcasting and can fulfil the function of a “key medium” itself in the future. Against this backdrop the Hans-Bredow-Institut renders an expert opinion for the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament, which accounts for the current state of the discussion.
The phrase “key medium” is not yet an established academic concept. Media Studies emphasise the changing significance of media genres, Communication Studies therefore looks closely at the relevance of individual newspapers and magazines with particular quality requirement for the political system. In this context, the internet can be considered neither an individual medium nor a media genre, but a technical means to distribute various types of information. Through digitalisation transmission and storage of content is not bound to certain carrier media, and therefore economic conditions may change fundamentally.
Jurisprudential literature uses the phrase key medium very sparsely; it does not present any specific legal meaning. Law is not tied to “the Internet” as such, but defines communication services by abstract characteristics. Types develop functionally and in relation to specific legal consequences, the process takes into account functions or anticipated potential impact. Besides broadcasting and print media the category of journalistic design is gaining significance; yet the legislator ties certain rights and obligations to this. Newspapers are slowly becoming less important to media users, still reaching remarkable daily coverage. TV has the longest usage period, but a change is trend is announcing itself. Young people spend more time using the internet than watching television, and not only for information, but also for entertainment.
On supply side, the traditional press and broadcasting companies face the economic challenge to market their own capacity even when the audience is turning towards other distribution channels and media offerings and advertising clients gear to different forms of advertising. To executive editors, the press and broadcasting offer still is the journalistic essence of the company. Professional editorial offerings, which appear exclusively online, are rare. Weblogs present a centre-periphery-structure, in which only few gain extensive coverage and therefore may be called “key blogs”. As for explicit references, there appears to be a dividing line between online and offline.
With regard to the constitutional objective to prevent dominant influence on public opinion, it is concluded from this development that medium-term, TV as sole link to media concentration law is not sufficient anymore. It is recommended is to examine the realisation prospect of a comprehensive media model, which apprehends the potential effects over all media and evaluates them according to their significance for the process of shaping public opinion. In doing so, also the specific role of intermediates for shaping public opinion should be considered.