The omniscient East German Stasi secret police that had a starring role in the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others” had a real-life role infiltrating West German pubcaster ARD.
The Stasi, it seems, was determined to keep close tabs on the inner workings of the web that was widely watched in the Communist east, even though it was officially verboten.
A report commissioned by ARD to study Stasi archives in Berlin concluded that the Stasi knew a lot but was unable to influence programming or exec appointments.
“The East German leadership wanted to know exactly who was in charge and how the network could be sabotaged in an emergency,” says Jochen Staadt, a Stasi expert from Berlin’s Free U who prepared the report.
Staadt says there were many people at the web as well as ZDF recruited to work for the Stasi, but it appears none ever made it to top positions and that there was no influence on program decisions — even if the agency did plan a number of misleading stories.
But the network of Stasi spies did keep East German leaders apprised of the web’s programming decisions, notes Staadt.
“If there was, for instance, a particularly explosive political program to be broadcast in West Germany, the East Germans would make sure they had an especially popular show on their airwaves so that as few people as possible would watch the West German TV,” says Staadt.
Although watching “West TV” was officially forbidden in East Germany, enforcement was gradually relaxed, and by the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 travelers in East Germany could always tell which direction was west — simply by looking at which way all the TV antennas were pointed.