The grievances in the public service broadcasting houses are obvious: a reform of the public service is needed. Nevertheless, we should not do without the public service system.
The case of the ex-RBB director Patricia Schlesinger, who was as greedy as he was in need of recognition, showed the world what insiders had long known: Public broadcasting (ÖRR) is a self-revolving cosmos with 21 TV stations and 73 radio stations , extremely expensive and extremely inefficient. From the compulsory fee mentioned, the rulers derived the claim to be able or even to educate the common people politically.
Added to this is the almost unbearable arrogance of ÖRR “hierarches” such as the WDR program director Jörg Schönenborn, who glorifies the radio contribution as a “democracy tax”. Just as if all countries without a ÖRR of German dimensions were not real democracies.
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The grievances in the radio stations are obvious. With almost 8.5 billion euros, ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandfunk spend almost twice as much as the British BBC. Of the 8.5 billion, personnel costs account for almost two billion; almost 0.7 billion have to be set aside annually for the sometimes lavish old-age provision. Intendants sometimes earn more than the Federal Chancellor or the respective Prime Minister. So the system takes care of itself.
Added to this is the left-green twist that runs through almost all programs. The top priority is apparently “political correctness first, news second”. Even the left-liberal Zeit editor-in-chief and part-time NDR talk show host Giovanni di Lorenzo, who politically fits in well with the ÖRR, admits that “there is not a single prominent conservative voice on public television”. In fact: without exception, the moderators of the talk shows are left of center.
And yet: The privatization of ARD and ZDF cannot be a solution; nor their decommissioning. Not only because there is no political majority for it and there are numerous legal hurdles that are difficult to overcome. A television and radio landscape characterized exclusively by private providers would have much less to offer in terms of news, politics and culture than the public transport offering in these areas.
No, you wouldn’t want to imagine being dependent on broadcasters like RTL or SAT1 for ongoing political information. Or, as a music and literature lover, having to look for relevant offers at Pro7 or Vox. Because all private broadcasters live from advertising revenue, which in turn is closely linked to audience ratings.
However, entertainment attracts more viewers than political analysis, the broadcast of opera or a high-quality literary programme. Consequently, the private sector has no choice but to rely on the taste of the broad majority. There, mass ranks before class; it even has to be like that.
A reformed PSA would need to be leaner and more effective. Why “Das Erste” and ZDF compete with each other is not clear. There is also more coexistence and confusion between the individual state institutions and the ARD than a reasonable division of labor. But even more important than the economic aspects of a new ÖRR must be the content.
The primary purpose of a license (or tax) funded public broadcaster must be to deliver what its self-funded competitors cannot. The range of shallow entertainment, feature films such as detective stories, appearances of mostly very expensive show stars or also expensive sports broadcasts would not suffer significantly if there was little or no space in the ÖRR programs. The basic supply in these genres is well taken care of by the private companies. The state can and should stay out of this.
The public broadcasters have always defined the concept of basic service broadly and thus justified everything, even the constant repetition of old Tatort episodes in the regional programs. What exactly is to be understood by basic care is not laid down anywhere. In connection with the “basic service”, the Federal Constitutional Court pointed out that the public service providers “are not dependent on high ratings in the same way as private broadcasters (…)”. In other words: Broadcasters such as ARD and ZDF in particular can be demanding Provide formats that do not promise high ratings.
The Schlesinger affair further damaged the already damaged reputation of public broadcasters. However, this cannot be polished up with PR gags like the new director of Hessischer Rundfunk, Florian Hager. Among other things, he wants to put up a “firewall to the RBB” by switching from his BMW 745e to a 5-series BMW iX.
If that is the lesson from everything that is now being washed up in Berlin-Brandenburg and elsewhere, it becomes downright ridiculous. Such a “reformed” ÖRR will only give a boost to those who want to abolish it altogether. The public institutions do not have the strength to reform fundamentally. After all, the system feeds itself quite well the way it is – and so do all “systemlings”.
Only politics can change something here. That comes across all party lines also in need of explanation. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain to citizens and contributors why they should continue to use their fees to finance the most expensive public broadcasting system in the world, which at the same time acts as the nation’s highest-ranking authority.
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This country can do without this bloated and sometimes pretentious ÖRR in its current form. But not on a public system that offers exactly what the private providers can’t do: a qualitatively demanding basic service of news, politics and culture that dispenses with any kind of folk pedagogy. Whoever wants to save the ÖRR, whoever wants to increase its reputation and credibility again, has to reform it – thoroughly and quickly.