Offentlich-rechtliche: “a program that tends to be too one-sided”
Offentlich-rechtliche:'ein tendenziell zu einseitiges programm'

Thorolf Lipp, filmmaker and board member of AG DOK, on the difficult state of documentaries at ARD and Co.

Broadcasting a soccer game or showing a well-made feature-length documentary film? The public broadcasters are setting clear priorities – in the direction of sports. This catch-all is documentary filmmaker Thorolf Lipp, who addresses imbalances in the public-law system in a two-part interview with Telepolis.

The film producer, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Dokumentarfilm (AG DOK), describes in an interview that for the broadcasting costs of a soccer match in the Nations League alone, 40 "long documentaries financed" could be, "which certainly had a much higher added value in the sense of the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty, because they demanded democracy and contributed to diversity" Contribute have been. Restructuring in program and budget, according to Lipp, is indispensable here in order to fulfill the broadcasting mission appropriately.

Mr. Lipp, the public broadcasting system is endowed with a lot of money. Feeding well-made documentaries into the program should not really be a problem, should it??

Thorolf Lipp: Let me perhaps answer the question in a somewhat broader way: Where do the public broadcasters prioritize? What is a lot of money spent on, and what is little spent on?? Both in terms of absolute figures in terms of cost per minute of broadcasting, and in terms of cost per viewer reached. Within the ARD’s ERSTEN, sports devours about 25 percent of the program procurement costs, but only fills about eight percent of the broadcasting time. On the other hand, the program area knowledge and education, here figures of the Bavarian television within the ARD group, receives only a portion of approximately six percent of the program budget, must fill however thereby approximately 15 percent of the transmission time. This is obviously a blatant imbalance in favor of a program area that could be financed in a different way. Can you give us an example?

Thorolf Lipp: Bisher kosteten die Rechte an den Spielen der Fubballnationalmannschaft bei EM oder WM bei circa 4 Millionen Euro pro Spiel. In the case of the Nations League, which has now been introduced by the resourceful marketing strategists of the soccer lobby UEFA, the figure is around 10 million euros per match . A sports event that no one seems to have needed so far, and which even well-known German soccer managers view rather skeptically, can apparently be afforded by the public broadcasters from now on, while cuts in the areas of knowledge and education continue to be made. Thus, instead of complying with the subsidiarity principle demanded in various broadcasting reports, the opposite continues to be the case in programming. Mit anderen Worten: Beim Fubball gibt es ja, wie etwa auch bei anderen Sport-Grobereignissen, kein Marktversagen, das konnen und wollen private Anbieter sich leisten. The German public broadcasters could hold back much more and reallocate the freed-up funds to other areas of programming. This is all the more true because ARD and ZDF are among the European leaders in the broadcasting of these major sporting events compared with other public broadcasters. But the opposite is the case. The programming area, which is comparatively meagerly equipped in terms of the number of euros spent per minute of broadcasting "Knowledge Bildung" subsidizes, in this sense, the exorbitantly expensive program area of sports. Fur 10 Mio. Euro, it is therefore possible to broadcast only a single Nations League football match. But on top of that there are the production costs?

Thorolf Lipp: Yes, of course. The costs for the transmission, organization, moderation, etc., are not yet covered. are still to be added. This game then fills with the surrounding coverage perhaps three hours of program space. It is, however, not suitable for repertoire, so it cannot be repeated, because who wants to see a football game again, the outcome of which has already been determined?. For the same money one could finance about 40 full-length documentaries, which certainly had a much higher added value in the sense of the broadcasting treaty, because they demanded democracy and contributed to diversity. moreover, these films were repertoire. Thus, if fully financed by the broadcaster, they could be repeated dozens of times. can be accessed in the media libraries. The bottom line is that with 40 films and an estimated 10 repetitions per film, there would be 600 hours of broadcasting time, which, with politically, socially and culturally relevant topics, would contribute more to the cultural diversity required by the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty than a single soccer game, which would then be broadcast by RTL or Sky in the future.

Cumulative ratings would show a different picture

One argument is that soccer is shown because of the market share. In addition, the acceptance of the viewers to the TV channel because it shows its popular fubball game.

Thorolf Lipp: On the one hand, this is true, and presumably in today’s media world no single documentary will manage to generate more viewers at once than a Fubball national game, which in the best case reaches a market share of about 60 percent, which is roughly equivalent to 22 million viewers . On the other hand, if you take a closer look, you will see that the one-time market share is not everything. Even if only 200.000 viewers see a documentary film (which is a very low estimate, because if the public broadcasters were to place and advertise these films in a useful way, which they do not do, the numbers could look much better)!), the reruns would reach at least 80 million viewers. If this "Cumulative quota" If we calculate the number of documentaries shown, we get a completely different picture, because both the absolute reach and the audience revenue per euro of broadcasting fee are much higher. If these funds for a single international soccer match were added to the budget currently available within ARD for the long documentary film, a weekly broadcasting slot on ARD could be sufficiently well equipped. Currently, ARD shows about 14 long documentaries a year, ZDF less than 10. However, there is no fixed weekly slot for these films, neither on ARD nor on ZDF. This must definitely change! Let’s look at this figure again from a different angle: 10 million euros is roughly equivalent to 0.1 percent of the total budget of the public broadcaster. If the cinematic genre of the long documentary film was part of the DNA of public broadcasting, as is always claimed, it would be a matter of course to reserve at least 0.5 percent of the budget of the public broadcasters for the production of long documentaries. In order to make possible a well-funded broadcasting slot on ARD and ZDF and the third parties. But it is not. You are a documentary filmmaker yourself. Please explain: What exactly are the other problems?

Thorolf Lipp: Most of the documentarists I know personally see their profession as a vocation. On the one hand, this releases unimagined intellectual and creative forces, but on the other hand, it also makes them susceptible to blackmail, because they usually work out of enthusiasm and joy in their own work, rather than out of a coldly calculated profit motive. Many of these filmmakers are justifiably proud of repeatedly taking on certain themes and formally adopting a particular cinematic approach. Both are seen as a necessary enrichment for our community. At the same time, their highly qualified work is by far the worst paid by our financially well endowed public broadcasting system compared to the other branches of film production. What is particularly questionable is that funds for project development or research are often hardly or no longer granted. Yet it is precisely in an intensive examination of the world, above all in detailed research and sufficiently long shooting times, that the genre’s greatest strength lies. And by this I mean both the long documentary film and the many shorter forms, such as documentaries or reportages. But also the budgets for filming and post-production have steadily decreased over the last decades. Recently, both ARD and ZDF have begun to make improvements here. This is a first step, because salaries and fees for certain areas have now increased by about 5%. But first of all, many trades have not benefited. And TV productions today are often co-productions, which are often still exempt from the new regulations. Moreover, it is always easy to say: Well, we’ll add 5 percent here, but cut two days and two days there, and everything is back to normal. Broadcasters are often heard to say that the filmmakers’ offerings are thematically too specific or intellectually too demanding.

Thorolf Lipp: Our democratic social order can only function if we trust the sovereign, i.e. the citizens. But if the program decision-makers of public television no longer believe that we citizens are capable of forming a qualified judgment about politics and society, of dealing with complex cultural, scientific and economic content in a differentiated manner, then there is a serious problem for our community. One can react to this with the contemptuous cynicism of private television, which shows everything that crosses borders and somehow excites the viewer. Let him stay away, if it is too lowbrow for him, they say here.

Audience interest and general welfare – are played off against each other

But at least a part of the public seems to be taken with the bullying in the jungle camp and the always same celebrity talk.

Thorolf Lipp: It was and perhaps still is. But this has not contributed much to the success of the project of a democratically constituted society, because here, apart from a few hurdles built in by the legislator, the media have been regarded as a commodity, which is exclusively reserved for the user User Value were obligated. According to the motto: What provides for attention, is good! Since the triumph of digital media, we have observed a further process of dissolution of the public sphere. In the meantime, it is no longer just the private broadcasters who are competing for the media budget – and the data – of customers, but also globally active media companies such as Amazon and Netflix, Google and Facebook. With players like Amazon or Netflix, a different quality has undoubtedly taken hold, but the bottom line here is still always economic success. If you want to survive on the market, you have to offer what the customer wants to see. It’s a little different with internationally operating, state-financed propaganda stations that deliberately provide alternative perspectives for the purpose of political influence, to put it as neutrally as possible. Not everything about it must always be questionable in terms of quality, but the goal is clear. You allude to the Russian station RT?

Thorolf Lipp: This would be an example. Such players ultimately contribute to the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to agree on the validity of interpretation; indeed, their aim is precisely to torpedo the notion of validity. In the long run, however, I am convinced that this trust in validity is necessary for society to succeed. And it must be clear to the public broadcasters that this trust does not come cheaply. It takes time and money to get an accurate picture of an increasingly complex and often deeply contradictory reality. In addressing the public, however, the aforementioned actors now often set the content, tone and tempo by simplifying, exaggerating and sometimes even deliberately distorting this reality. As a result, public discourse is increasingly dominated by an affect-driven atmosphere in which fictions and facts are mixed in an opaque way. Spaces of feeling are expanding, ranging from uplifting communities to feel-good bubbles. What all these private media producers, on the other hand, neither want nor need to keep in mind is the Public Value, that is, the common good. They are often not interested in presenting a complex and multi-layered reality in a differentiated way, which is sometimes difficult and requires cooperation from the viewer, but on the contrary want to shock through polarization and fascinate through emotionalization. And so a fatal dynamic is emerging in many cases. User value and public value – viewer interest and general welfare – are played off against each other. Because one-dimensional stories and simple truths, entertainment and emotionalization often seem to go down better with viewers, the public broadcasters run the risk of believing that they cannot expect their audience to engage in a differentiated and sophisticated examination of reality. But that would be the mission, wouldn’t it??

Thorolf Lipp: Indeed it is. The public institutions have the task to demand the social, political and aesthetic judgment. Public broadcasting is even obliged by law to want the mouthy burger and to provide the most serious and thus qualitative interpretation of the world possible. But if you look at the television program, you begin to suspect that the burger is no longer trusted with this mouthiness to the extent that it would be necessary. This is highly problematic, because if the premise of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan is correct, that we become what we see, then media-generated interpretations of the world, as stereotypical as they may appear in doubtful cases, are not distorted images of an objective reality, but are in a reciprocal relationship with it and in this respect are themselves effective. It is all the more alarming when the images presented to us by television are standardized in terms of content and form, as we are currently seeing. By the way, television is still the leading medium. And if one day this should no longer be the case, because linear use continues to decline, then the rationale of the producers behind it will not have changed. In other words, the public view of the world will continue to compete with private-sector profit motives as well as with governmental or semi-governmental propagandists. All these players have now, and will probably have in the future, very different reasons for their actions. But there are also filmmakers in the public broadcasters who do an excellent job, who know their craft?

Thorolf Lipp: There certainly are. But why is there so little openness to the broad range of themes and narrative forms of non-fictional film?? Why is there a standardization, formatting, shortening and liquidation of entire program sections, under which the responsible editors often suffer as much as the freelance documentarists?? One reason for this is surely that those responsible for programming, i.e. directors and TV directors, themselves usually have little or no experience of how difficult and tedious it is to do serious documentary work. And I am not referring to television journalism. This is good and necessary, but a journalistic approach is often different from the approaches of documentarists! In all likelihood, the lack of understanding of the challenges of documentary work is also due to the fact that it is usually journalists or lawyers who call the shots at the stations. Permanent documentarists who have made a career within the broadcasters up to real decision-making positions, on the other hand, do not exist at all. In this respect, unfortunately, they also have no chance to feed their view of the world into the institutional reasoning context within the stations. For all these reasons, it seems to me that there is too little understanding of the needs, concerns and touch of documentary directors and producers. Since 2016 there has been a program workshop within ARD, initiated and carried out with the participation of AG DOK, but here it is primarily producers who talk to editors, and there is often more overlap than dissent. What is still missing here are the hierarchs, the television directors and artistic directors, who can and want to talk to us producers and directors at eye level about the distribution of funds in the sense of the public service mandate. (Marcus Klockner)