Just when it was supposed to be funny, it got serious. In 2021, West German Broadcasting (WDR) showed a TV compilation of earlier carnival programs that triggered criticism of racism. White people could be seen on a stage who were made up as black people – discriminatory “blackfacing” is what we call it today. The ARD broadcaster reacted and covered the sequence with a notice board.

Recently, the public service WDR drew criticism again. This time it was like this: The broadcaster displayed a notice before an Otto show from the 1970s. “The following program is shown in its original form as part of television history. It contains passages that are now considered discriminatory.” The WDR drew malice for the practice, which was also used in the ARD for “Schmidteinander” episodes and some “Tatort” thrillers with the character Horst Schimanski.

It’s a subject for debate: You read a lot of comments and opinions on the internet and in media reports. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” began its front-page commentary “Das Streiflicht” like this: “Caution, the following text could be disturbing and is not for the faint of heart.” The daily newspaper “taz” devoted a front page to the debate.

The use of language then and now is discussed in many areas – just to mention gender. There were also arguments about whether it is okay for new editions of Pippi Longstocking books to be changed – keyword N-word. The term “N-word” describes a racist term for black people that used to be used in the past.

On request, the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAW) said that some earlier advertising seemed outdated: “No company would do itself a favor by running it again”. The advertising council supported by the ZAW as a self-regulation of the industry deals exclusively with currently placed advertising. Should an advertising company come up with the idea of ​​”fetching a historical advertisement that is now perceived as discriminatory from the archive and placing it up to date, the advertising council could immediately initiate a procedure that would lead to the stop of this advertisement,” it said further.

A survey by the German Press Agency of media companies on how they deal with archive material revealed: archives are not systematically searched through – this happens on a case-by-case basis when an old program is broadcast again.

In 2021, the ARD coordination “Fiktion” (WDR) initiated a working group to develop a procedure for dealing with the repetition of older films from a diversity point of view, as the ARD explained. “The question also plays a role as to whether scenes, dialogues or visual representations in the film can have a discriminatory effect from today’s perspective and whether the impression could arise that the film adopts this discriminatory attitude.”

Broadcasts in the archives are documents of contemporary history and are therefore not changed. “However, the editorial team, in consultation with the program planner, may decide not to broadcast a program from the archive again and/or to block it from further repetitions.” The ARD experience value: “The programs very rarely contain passages that can be perceived as inappropriate or discriminatory from today’s perspective. This can be pointed out at the beginning of the program.” The ARD named the two DEFA fairy tale films “Zwerg Nase” (1978) and “Der kleine Muck” (1953) as further examples – there was “Blackfacing”.

The public ZDF generally referred to its own quality and program guidelines. The private television group RTL Germany explained: “We are aware that stereotypes have been shown in the past that do not reflect the attitude of RTL.” In order not to play these out unfiltered, a disclaimer is included if necessary.

Example “Asterix” on Super RTL, according to the broadcaster: “The following film is a product of its time. It can depict racist, sexist and discriminatory stereotypes. These stereotypes were wrong then and they are still wrong today. Even if that “The following does not reflect Super RTL’s view and values, the film will be shown as it was originally made. We want to encourage learning from and talking about the content to create an inclusive, diverse future together.” Possible consequences are also to cut out parts of affected programs in consultation with the license holder, not to broadcast a format or to remove it, RTL said.

A spokeswoman for the entertainment sector from ProSiebenSat.1 said: “Regardless of all debates, we always check before broadcasting on linear TV whether we can broadcast the program. This also applies to our media libraries.” Example: Winnetou. “One result of this review was that Winnetou was allowed to continue riding through Kabel Eins despite some bizarre debates – and is allowed to do so.”

There are also examples from the radio sector. The public Deutschlandradio called the classification in the “Retro” section in the ARD audio library, in which Deutschlandradio material is also used: “ARD Retro publishes original contributions that reflect the way of thinking and the language style of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.” According to the broadcaster, there was also a note in an episode of a radio play series: “Welcome to the crime radio play ‘The Headhunter of Singapore’. First of all, a note on our own behalf: This production from 1981 contains terms and stereotypes that appear racist from today’s perspective . Nevertheless, we decided to publish the piece because we want to make all episodes of the historical RIAS series ‘Professor van Dusen’ accessible. Such content reflects broadcasting and contemporary history, but not the current attitude of Deutschlandfunk Kultur.”

Not only TV broadcasters, but also other media companies are dealing with the topic. A spokeswoman for the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” explained: If you republish archive material – which rarely happens – and come across problematic areas, you check in each individual case whether a change and/or classification is necessary. In the anniversary edition for his own 77th birthday, an interview with the writer James Baldwin from 1978 was reprinted. “In the curated new publication of this text, we did not write out the N-word. In the digital “Zeit” archive, however, we left the text as the original source. We accompanied both the new publication and the original version with classifying words.”