The internet does not belong to the broadcasters

Commentary on the fee plans of the public broadcasters

Did you know: "The dual broadcasting system is the simultaneous existence of public and private broadcasters. These differ primarily in the way they are financed."Perhaps the marketing people of the GEZ – financed by us – simply did not think properly when they tried to find a definition for the German broadcasting system on their own website. It is more likely, however, that the fee collectors have simply put into words the way of thinking that now apparently prevails in the executive suites of the broadcasting companies: public broadcasting differs from private competition solely by the way it is financed – and not, for example, by the quality of its programming.

Instead of using the money paid by viewers to develop new, innovative programs, ARD and ZDF have been copying the supposedly successful formats of the private broadcasters for years and taking over the creators along with them with roughly paid long-term contracts: From Beckmann and Kerner to Pilawa and Schmidt… Sometimes staff is poached from each other, as in the case of folk music actress Carmen Nebel, who switched from ARD to ZDF two years ago at horrendous conditions. Those who bring in quotas apparently have fool’s license at the broadcasting stations. The obvious surreptitious advertising actions of Reinhold Beckmann for the insurance group WWK and Johannes B. Kerner for the low-cost airline Air Berlin in their fee-financed broadcasts on ARD and ZDF. ZDF (crash landing in the media) remained without consequences. In return, the two permanent talkers are allowed to have their shows produced in their own production companies, similar to Harald Schmidt, and to cash in several times: as presenters, producers and shareholders.

At the very least, these freelancers do not acquire any public-law pension entitlements, especially since the comparatively lavish retirement benefits of the legions of former radio civil servants are an enormous burden on the budgets of ARD and ZDF anyway. If there is not enough money for administration and lavish fees for ratings, the budgets and broadcasting times of journalistic programs such as "Monitor", "Panorama" or "Report" and the fees of freelancers are cut. At the latest then it is the turn of the fee payers.

So far, they have occupied radio and television stations. Starting in January of next year, Internet-only users will finally be allowed to contribute 5.52 euros per month to the basic public broadcasting service in Germany, even if they never listen to online radio – just like the vast majority of surfers, which can be read in the 2006 ARD/ZDF online study of all things (Gebuhren fur "novel reception devices"). Compared to road traffic, this would mean that pedestrians and cyclists would also have to pay vehicle taxes. Reasoning: after all, they could also drive a car.

It is astonishing that hardly anyone opposes this nonsense and that the criticism in the media has so far been rather restrained. After all, it is not even clearly regulated by broadcasting law that public broadcasters are allowed to broadcast their programs online at all. It is unacceptable, however, that publicly financed educational institutions and universities should in the future transfer parts of their already tight budgets to the GEZ, even though the radio services there are not needed at all. It will also be difficult to convince self-employed people and freelancers that they have to pay fees for Carmen Nebel and Co. if they only want to handle their correspondence via email.

It is high time for the loudest possible outcry, otherwise this fee madness will actually come into effect. Has no one really thought about the major influence that the public broadcasters have had on Internet access and use in Germany?? In contrast to antenna, cable and satellite connections, it would be technically almost easy for the controllers to prove allegedly unauthorized Internet usage. What should happen then? Computers can hardly be shut down at the instigation of the broadcasters, who themselves have a lot of dirt on them: from the Marienhof scandal to the strange Jan Ulrich fee, which was uncovered these days. Michael Hanfeld, media director of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has already concluded: "ARD is dismantling itself". The Internet should be spared as much as possible. After all, it does not belong to the broadcasting officials.