- In 2021 the broadcasting fee has to be increased because the needs of the broadcasters require it.
- In order to avoid outrage, a revolutionary new model will be decided on Thursday at the meeting of the country leaders in Berlin.
- Thus, after 2021, the contribution could rise to an index for six years after a transition period.
It has been known for three years what will happen in 2021, if everything goes on as before. And for the past three years, the prime ministers responsible for broadcasting have stared at the snake like the rabbits just on the day when they have to increase the broadcasting fee of currently € 17.50, because the needs of the broadcasters require it. Again, as some say, even if it was the first increase since 2009 (see grafic), The country chiefs know what will happen then: loud indignation of the critics of ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio, not only, but especially in the East German countries, possibly even the blockade of the state treaty, which must be closed for the increase, in some provincial assemblies.
That's why a revolutionary new model will be decided this Thursday at the meeting of country leaders in Berlin. It would turn the previous system upside down and ultimately serves one purpose: to defuse the political discussion about the money for broadcasting in the long term.
Thus, after 2021, the contribution could rise to an index for six years after a transition period. By June, the cornerstones should be developed for it. If the broadcasting contribution were linked to the inflation rate in the future, any increase in the public sphere could be conveyed with the argument that the institutions only receive what the inflation takes from them.
If the countries blocked a higher contribution, the matter would come to the Constitutional Court
For the heads of government, such an automatism would make much easier politically. Therefore, the model developed by six countries made a rapid career last year, a year-long reform stoppage seemed over. However, legally it is not that easy, so there is some criticism of the plan.
The previous financing of broadcasting in Germany is complicated, completely unsuitable for political PR and perhaps therefore so vulnerable to attacks. On the one hand, it follows the maxim that public-law funding must be strictly state-neutral, so that no government can influence broadcasting. On the other hand, it should obey European competition law. The focus is on the independent commission Kef, the Commission for determining the financial needs of broadcasters. It reviews the needs of broadcasters and proposes a new level for the broadcasting fee every four years. According to a fundamental judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court, the Länder may deviate from this only in extreme exceptional cases.
The highest court decided in 2007 so after the countries had cut the contribution independently, then complained the transmitter and got right. Therefore, the current situation for the heads of government is not just uncomfortable, but it also brings the broadcasting policy to its limits. If in countries such as Saxony or Saxony-Anhalt the diets block an increase recommended by the Kef for 2021, the case should also land this time before the Federal Constitutional Court. The ARD chairman Ulrich Wilhelm has announced, if necessary, to complain. The public broadcasters argue that they are required by law to do all the many programs listed there, so that they could save themselves only limited, as long as the order in the broadcasting law remains the same. The new model, on the other hand, uses a rather roughly formulated plan to give the institutions more freedom to do what they want to do beyond compulsory contributions – for example, in the decision to broadcast programs on a linear or on-demand basis. This is to be connected with a "profile sharpening of the contract" and a common strategy of the public-legal for the digital dissemination of their contents. This part of the reform package could well be further developed if the financial reform fails.
Even the name reflects the complexity of the task: The "Commission for the determination of the financial needs of broadcasters", Kef, every two years, the needs of public broadcasters according to the criteria of efficiency and economy, thus preventing their over- or undercompensation, competition would be problematic. The system is also considered compatible with EU law since 2007, following a complaint by the private broadcasters, that it passed a policy review by the European Commission. Every four years, Kef proposes a new contribution to the countries.
Broadcasting fees have existed in Germany since 1924. The Kef was founded in 1975. It consists of 16 independent experts, each state designates a member. They are called for five years. Its chairman is the representative of Bavaria, Heinz Fischer-Heidlberger.
The Kef is responsible only for the finances, not for the verification of the question whether the programming of the broadcasters also complies with the legal mandate. However, for example, it repeatedly points to savings potential or to the fact that the public-law issues too much for sports broadcasts. In its most recent report from February last year, the Commission wrote "admonishingly", as she put it herself, that spending on sport "reached the limit of the economically justifiable and exceeded certain limits".
The fact that the contribution must increase in 2021 after the old model, the Kef has calculated in a forecast at the request of the heads of government in 2016. The functional needs of the station, that is the jargon, probably required an increase of 1.40 to 1.90 euros, she noted then. So far, high additional revenue cushions many things. They came from switching from a device-related tax to a lump-sum tax for everyone in 2013. The money is now used up. Currently, the determination of the actual financial position for 2021.
The money saved in the past few years has been used up by the broadcasters
Much has been tried since 2016 to force ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio to save so that the contributions could remain stable. Vain. "The savings proposals presented by the public service broadcasters do not meet the expectations expressed in October 2016," says the Prime Minister's draft resolution. Further savings efforts were "also required beyond 2021". For this reason, it has been controversial internally for some time from which initial value an index increase could emanate. In the current proposal is that the Kef for 2021 again the contribution level to develop according to the old method. That would then be the underlying for the index increase from 2023 to. Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder, CSU, said recently that the starting value should not exceed 18 euros, and this brand is reportedly also interesting for other countries. Criticism also comes from the association of private broadcaster Vaunet. There, the former Kef member Thomas Hirschle was commissioned with a short assessment. Key message: an increase by index would inevitably lead to an incorrect contribution level. The broadcasters would then be either under or over-funded, he says. The private broadcaster's chairman, Hans Demmel, announces that legal action should be taken if the Prime Ministers adopt the index model. In extreme cases this could amount to a new lawsuit in Brussels. In fact, it is unclear how and by whom the difference should be determined between growth by index and the "functional" funding of public service broadcasting required by the Federal Constitutional Court. And how this difference, how the too much or too little would be compensated later.
In any case, it is relatively likely that there will be little talk about a reform of the mandate on Thursday in Berlin. But all the more about money.