It happened in 1963, when the first Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (RStV) provided a uniform framework for the uncontrolled growth that had prevailed until then. To finance what was now officially Public Service Broadcasting, the ingenious plan was devised to make users pay for it – state-imposed Pay-TV. In return, the stations were supposed to provide the public with education and knowledge, prepare information and report on current topics, deliver major sporting events to the home, and provide some entertainment for the family on Saturday evenings. So far so laudable.
And today? With the cushion of secure funding, the Public Service Broadcasting (ÖRR) has been able to draw on full resources, and it come down handsomely. Although the ÖRR is not a profit-oriented business enterprise, it acts like one and adapts their credo: growth. Here, as there, however, the focus is not on the benefits of the milked payers, who merely have to take the rap for protection.
An opulent refuge was diligently created and a host of employees installed as a bastion. In order to make it difficult for outsiders to gain an overview and to be able to demand further fee increases with an innocent air, the empire was assiduously expanded. Subsidiaries, partner companies, production companies and more and more new stations created an oversized monster, which is why the apparatus had to be additionally inflated with corresponding control instances, which also have to be borne by the fees.
Even a separate collection department was created, whose methods for monitoring residents could hold a candle to the Stasi and was and is hardly more squeamish than the Mafia when it comes to collecting fees.
Even for pensions and annuities of the coworkers the fee payers are consulted. Completely absurdly, the regulation was left to the ÖRR itself. If one had hoped for sanity or self-discipline, that was woefully naive. If the land of milk and honey lies at one’s feet, one will grab it. If current salaries, especially at the management level, are sufficient for a medium-sized business enterprise, the retirement provision is indecent when measured against this. For it should be noted – and many people are probably unaware of this – that this is paid in addition to the statutory pension insurance. This is disrespectful to the defenseless taxpayer, who is asked to pay in two ways. (21st KEF Report p. 115 ff.)
The ÖRR is like a government agency. That’s right, they don’t want to hear that there just as state broadcasting or taxes. In contrast, its wastefulness, its interconnectedness and its appearance as an unassailable, indispensable institution are in no way inferior to public institutions. The fact is, every household is forced to pay the compulsory fee, even if there is no receiver, and it is collected by means that are fundamentally the sovereignty of the state. Those who do not pay may well find themselves in prison. Previous court cases challenging the method of financing have been lost. Malicious tongues rumor that judges are also paid by taxpayers’ money and that one crow doesn’t peck out the eyes of another. However, some cases have made it all the way to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and there are hopes that at least movement will come to the current fee model.
Another dubious point is the political independence actually imposed to ensure objective media design and reporting. However, the questionable appointments to positions, especially on control committees, paint the picture of a deportation yard for discarded politicians or rewards for merit loyal to the state. In any case, the influence is great. It is enough to look at the soft-flushed program. Politically correct and uncritical, it rightly earns the designation state radio. As tame as a petting zoo, it stinks to high heaven.
Does at least the quality of broadcasts justify this apparatus? In terms of the proclaimed aspirations, this should at least apply to production costs. Content quality, on the other hand, is only marginally present. Anything that is halfway in line with the original mission is usually outsourced to special-interest channels or hidden away on the main channels during the week at nighttime.
Since private broadcasters have been licensed, they have been steadily lowering the level of content with easily digestible fare. Unlike the ÖRR, the private stations have to finance themselves through advertising and other sources of income. Their basis is the audience ratings they achieve. Accordingly, they need viewers and are neither shameful nor sophisticated in attracting them. In other words, it cannot be shallow enough if it is supposedly pleasing.
Because of its compulsory income, the ÖRR is independent of audience ratings – at least it should be. Nevertheless, its stations behave as if they were in competition. Instead of broadcasting substantial programs, they dance along with cheap entertainment.
But instead of any insight, they cry out for more money. Unrealistic, they continue to pour oil on the fire and heat up the mood against themselves. It’s time for significant cuts and a noticeable reform that goes far beyond the currently touted tranquilizers. Surprisingly, ARD and ZDF, for example, have discovered – after almost 60(!) years of indecent gluttony – that sending two complete teams and double the technology to major (sporting) events may be excessive. Perhaps it will also be questioned whether there is really a need for freelance news anchors who are paid a princely daily rate. Or an extra sports news presenter for a maximum 3-minute appearance. Not to mention the 90-second presence of the Lotto Fairy.
Can changes be expected? The structures are deadlocked and the never-ending money-grab has been converted into a comfortable attitude of entitlement. If the Swiss #NoBillag initiative to abolish compulsory license fees there caused nervousness among those responsible here, there was no sign of it. On the contrary, in its run-up the ARD chairman even called for higher fees. And, of course, the reporting was colored according to self-interest. Even the occasionally self-critical magazine ZAPP joined in this canon. After the failure of the initiative, people in this country fall back into the monotonous chanting for higher fees, with a strengthened chest and still without insight. What this arrogance is based on is questionable. A comparable #NoGEZ initiative is likely to give the makers in this country a painful punch in the jaw.
Under the given conditions, no necessary changes are to be expected. Politicians would have to admit mistakes and take back measures that have been introduced. Such behavior already runs counter to the normal citizen. Politicians are used to breaking promises, but not to making concessions. The solidarity surcharge should have been history long ago. Asocial Hartz-IV divides society, fosters tensions, leads directly to poverty from childhood, and yet is unduly praised. Changes? Empty verbiage. And the ÖRR has the necessary organs to manipulate moods in its own cause.
At some point, it boils over. At some point, all patience is exhausted and all understanding has reached its limits. At some point, the price/performance ratio causes a stomachache and the benefit is classified as superfluous. At some point, resistance will form that can no longer be ignored and will demand more drastic cuts than the ÖRR would like.
Nobody likes to make curtailments. Some are forced to do so and are forced to comply. Others voluntarily submit to such a process in order to secure their existence. It is not for nothing that the expression healthy shrinkage exists. In Denmark, the ripcord was pulled and a drastic reform was ordered by the state. This model should be used in this country to avoid greater damage with an adapted model.
Our ÖRR urgently needs to be trimmed. Especially with today’s complexity of processes and interrelationships that have a global impact, extensive clarification is absolutely necessary. However, it is currently only available in homeopathic doses. The number of broadcasters must be significantly reduced. Education, knowledge and information must become the focus, if not the only content. The idea of competition, which never existed, must cease, just as advertising has no place in the ÖRR.
The private sector can provide the irrelevant entertainment, which is mainly a pointless waste of time or a numbing of one’s own reality. The ÖRR must be the counterbalance to this and not additionally weigh down the scales of dullness.
This is a call to disobedience, to mutiny, to civil uprising. Ally yourselves collectively and offer the comfort the forehead.
Development takes place only through change. Something must change.