MIt’s important to me that I don’t appear before you as ARD chairman. I only speak for myself. Because I will do something that is absolutely unusual in media policy debates: I will simply say what I think. Without taboos, without the usual considerations – and logically: not in the name of ARD. But in my own name and at my own risk. That also fits in with the Überseeclub; because the Überseeclub symbolizes the Hanseatic motto of thinking beyond horizons. “My field is the world.”
Each of us has noticed the events surrounding the Berlin-Brandenburg broadcasting service that came to light this summer. The debate about the RBB was initially about specific allegations against management and supervision. Controversial consulting contracts, billing of local food, questions about omitted tenders for conversion projects and many other things. Then the view widened. Questions were raised that are legitimate at all times and that are also periodically asked critically. But they only have something to do with the original scandals to a limited extent.
The debate grew heated—everywhere. Also here in the north. But over the past few weeks and months, one thing has become clear: this is no longer a debate about individual issues. It’s a fundamental debate.
I assume that we fundamentally value public service broadcasting. But now it’s about nothing less than the question: What do we want from non-profit broadcasting in the 21st century? How much non-profit broadcasting do we want? But also, conversely: What do we not want? Or not anymore?
That is the key question. But in the cacophony of irritated statements, many speak of reform, but almost all actually mean partial reform. The countries responsible for media policy say to the broadcasters: “You have to cut much more extensively! And if possible, don’t touch the program.” We broadcasters say to politics: “We’ve been cutting beyond the program for a long time! If you want a smaller bill, you have to order less.”
I have to explain that: what we all pay in terms of broadcasting fees follows the statutory mandate. The last chairman of the KEF, the independent commission that determines our financial needs, has repeatedly said it publicly to politicians: “Everything that the broadcasters do, you – the politicians – have written down in state treaties and state broadcasting laws.” The broadcasters say , they would have to fulfill what is required by law. Imagine if NDR director Jochen Knuth – who is also sitting here in the room – simply switched off one of the radio waves here in the north.
Nobody dares to come out of cover
The countries say, however, that the state treaties leave enough leeway to omit something. Only: If you leave something out, you get the full wave of indignation that something like this entails – the indignation of the audience who are supposed to do without the program they love; the outrage of the employees who earn their living with it; and the outrage of lobby groups defending the genre. I’ll get into that in a moment. The only important thing for me here is to make it clear to you: Everyone is afraid of being left alone with this risk. The result: Nobody dares to come out of cover. Everyone is stalking each other. Media policy and station bosses stalk each other. ARD and ZDF are spying on each other, who gets more of the contribution cake percentage, who less? It’s a bit like Mikado: whoever moves first loses.