E-Mail: j.keilbach [at] uu.nl
Televising the Eichmann trial
Technological, institutional and political contentions of a transnational media event
The trial against Adolf Eichmann is one of the first transnational television events. When the trial opened on April 11th, 1961, journalists from all over the world were in Jerusalem to report on the proceedings. The trial was not only covered in the printed press and on radio, but also recorded for television, with videotapes sent by plane to broadcasting stations in several countries. The recorded images were aired in news reports or special programs in 38 countries emphasizing the global significance of the event.
While the political and juridical implications of the Eichmann trial have been widely discussed (e.g. Arendt 1963, Douglas 2001, Lipstadt 2011), the micro-political preconditions and effects of the trial’s television broadcasting are rarely addressed. Yet this was no easy matter: The broadcasts required institutional co-operations on a transnational level. As television did not yet exist in 1961 Israel, the Israeli government contracted Capital Cities, a small production company from the US, to provide the television images. Capital Cities brought technology (cameras, Ampex videotape recorders etc.) and professionals from different countries to work together with local technicians and cameramen. Copies of the videotapes were then sent to New York and London, from where the respective networks and national television corporations organized the images’ further distribution. This collaboration of different institutions made it possible that the Eichmann trial became a transnational media event. And the broadcasts were thus not only formative in terms of its representation of the Holocaust (e.g. televised interviews with witnesses) and its anticipation of ‘Court TV’, but its collaborative set-up can also be understood as a progenitor of other global media events that soon were to be aired via satellite around the world.
Yet despite this collaborative set-up, a number of contentions preceded the recording of the trial, and even endangered the trial’s television broadcast. These conflicts not only had to do with politics and law (the broadcasting nations’ relations with the State of Israel, permission to film in the courthouse etc.), but also with various media institutions and technologies. Though very specific to the Eichmann trial’s broadcasting, these conflicts turned out to be symptomatic of the changing media landscape of the time.
This research project approaches the television coverage of the Eichmann trial from a media-historical perspective. It focuses on the technical and institutional preconditions of the television coverage as well as on the programs’ content and their historical and political context. While other studies have analyzed the press and radio coverage or television programs within a national framework (Wilke et al. 1995, Krause 2002, Shandler 1999, Pinchevski/Liebes/Herman 2007) or described the preparations for the filming of the trial to recognize the work of filmmaker Leo Hurwitz (Lindeperg/Wieviorka 2008), this project focuses on the various transnational co-operations, the technical and institutional contentions, and the political contexts. By understanding the Eichmann trial as intersection of various (often conflicting) interests it aims both at describing the particular constellation that facilitated its global television coverage and at conceptualizing the complexity of the making of global media events. Doing so it tells not only the history of how the Eichmann trial was televised, but addresses also changing media industries, Cold War politics and global media ecology.