Honestly earned contempt: Why the Germans are in favor of an end to broadcasting fees

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by Dagmar Henn

It is no longer really popular, the public service broadcaster in Germany. In a survey, 61.3 percent of those questioned answered the question “Should broadcasting fees in Germany be abolished like in France” with “definitely.” Another 7.1 percent answered “rather yes”.

One might think that this is a current slump caused by the scandal surrounding ex-RBB boss Schlesinger. But the same polling site Civey that provided those numbers on Aug. 10 has had another poll since 2018 asking how much citizens would be willing to pay for public broadcasting if they could decide for themselves. The most common answer, currently over 44 percent, is: nothing.

This does not fit with the self-portrayal that the representatives of these media always proudly announce, but it is basically the logical consequence when the public broadcasters differ from the corporate media in terms of technical effort, but not in terms of content.

The original concept of public service broadcasting aimed at two things: on the one hand to increase the political education of the population, and on the other hand to prevent events such as the fatal influence of the Hugenberg press on the development of the Weimar Republic by providing a counterweight.

One cannot recommend enough to watch old broadcasts by Peter Scholl-Latour, for example, on Internet channels such as YouTube; the difference becomes apparent very quickly. The affluence neurotic recently carried out such a comparison using an old windshield wiper show after September 11, 2001. Here, too, it is easy to see how great the differences are and how deeply these programs have become tabloids and have moved towards a unified opinion.

The rather complicated structure, in which a broadcasting council oversees programming, should ensure that all social groups have an appropriate say. That’s why there are representatives of the trade unions, the churches, the sports clubs… which never had much success, but now none at all, because all the positions that could be hijacked by party representatives have long since been hijacked. And public television has long had a tendency to look at society from above. Few TV viewers would feel like their story is being told here, given the homes and amenities featured on most TV shows.

Germany holds the most expensive television channels in the world. But in eight years of war in Donbass they were not able to actually report at least from both sides, as was once the norm. A documentary film financed by MDR, which told the story of a Donbass orchestral musician who left with the ideas conveyed in the German media and returned with others, was shown once by MDR. And then he disappeared into the poison cupboard. The story was authentic, real evidence. The result just wasn’t what was wanted.

This is exactly what the broadcasting councils should actually prevent with their diverse composition, which should serve to ensure that every part of the audience has a contact person who can represent their interests. Funding through fees has only one political justification – that the information provided actually fulfills the function of enabling citizens to make informed political decisions. But that is only possible if the different arguments are presented; at the moment when only the prevailing opinion is admissible, there is no reason for financing from a source other than the state treasury.

The problem has been known for many years. People used to make fun of Bavarian Radio, whose interviews with representatives of the Bavarian government always slipped into the deeply submissive (“Is it true, Prime Minister, that you …”). That’s the normal tone of voice now, except when it comes to representatives of somewhat dissenting opinions. Then the interrogation tone is activated. Neither has anything to do with what public service broadcasting should deliver.

This has been particularly extreme since the end of February. Wouldn’t it be the task of such broadcasters to show the entire reaction span to a crisis like the Russian military operation in Ukraine? In other words, to explain what the Minsk agreements contain, to provide real information about the conditions in Ukraine, including poverty and corruption, to name the interests behind arms deliveries, and an open debate between supporters and opponents of NATO is also welcome – How please is the sovereign to act as such if he is not treated as such? If the West’s position were so clear, a corollary of the facts, then none of this would be a threat. Those who tell the truth need not fear arguments.

Instead, institutions financed by contributions squeezed from the citizens (numbers of how many refuse to pay are not disclosed) become the beadles of an authority that now also decrees starvation and freezing. The generous payment of the permanent staff ensures that none of them sink to the ground with embarrassment.

It was originally a good idea. But if today most people don’t want to pay for it anymore, it’s not because of Netflix, YouTube and the like. No, the contempt is honestly earned. The state of the public service broadcasters corresponds to the state of the federal German democracy. He’s pathetic.

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