7 Topics, 7 Weeks
7. Structural commission for a reset of the dual system.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When was the last time a topic related to media policy made the cover of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine? Placing an analysis of the current state of public broadcasting in Germany so prominently in a leading publication is a clear sign that this is a major topic requiring debate. After all, considerable doubt has been cast on the extent to which ARD and ZDF still fully deliver on their public service mission. In addition, the structure has long been outdated and lacks efficiency. How do audiences benefit from funding two TV stations that compete with each other? What do they gain from both ARD and ZDF maintaining foreign studios in the same locations, for example? In the private sector, such an inefficient use of money would scarcely be conceivable.
The suggestions put forward by the directors general are not a fundamental structural reform; at best, they are merely well-intended financial tweaks. The papers’ contents are sobering. ARD’s estimated total cost savings through 2028 amount to about 951 million euros. Over 360 million euros of that sum, however, come from cuts in program distribution costs that are already accounted for in the budgets. Declaring costs that would not have been incurred in any case as new, real potential savings is, of course, a clever tactic. But it’s also proof of the lack of a serious will to reform. Things are no different at ZDF, where director general Thomas Bellut’s paper discusses “relative fee stability” as a goal. That is the only way to describe a saving in fees of 1.4 percent over ten years – it’s selling minimalism as structural optimization! At the same time, the directors general make these recommendations conditional on comprehensive demands for privileges over the competition and other concessions in expanding their own offerings.
The result doesn’t surprise me. The stations were tasked with reforming and/or trimming themselves. That’s like asking the frog to drain its own swamp. It would be irresponsible for the political decision makers to let themselves be fobbed off with this paper. A true run at structural reform calls for regulatory decisions such as redefining the public mission to encompass all media offerings and modes of dissemination. This can only be accomplished through changes to the state broadcasting treaties. The state chancelleries in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein have already presented very good approaches.
They are based on the concept of managing public broadcasting at the budgetary level. In this scenario, a social mission would be defined abstractly and a fixed budget allocated. That would give public broadcasters more freedom in fulfilling their public service mission, while also markedly enhancing their ability to react to the markets. It would also finally establish a way to focus on content rather than companies. Our Media Regulations 4.0 model pursues the same goal. Today, our programs already make a valuable contribution to the responsibility to provide information: we reach young people. We aim to expand on that in the future. To date, however, we have been denied public funding.
Society’s desire for reform is stronger than ever. Political decision makers are also going farther with their statements than before – just look at State Minister Robra’s intriguing suggestion, for example. Serious discussion must follow this – and, more importantly, decisions. We call for a reform commission that brings to the table the expertise and experience to determine what synergy and modernization processes are needed. That’s the only way to ensure the viability of Germany’s dual broadcasting system in the long term. It’s the only way to establish a commercially sound coexistence, in which we private broadcasters provide programs that contribute to democracy as an effective complement to public broadcasting’s mission to inform. Now is the time to evolve our media system, fundamentally and sustainably.
Sincerely, Conrad Albert