Most recently, the broadcasting fee, which is the main source of income for the public sector, amounted to 17.50 euros per month. According to the KEF (Commission for the Determination of the Financial Needs of Broadcasters), the contribution should have increased to 18.36 euros at the beginning of the year to compensate for a financial gap of 1.5 billion euros between 2021 and 2024. But in order for the negotiated state treaty to enter into force, all 16 state parliaments must give their consent – Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff did not do so and withdrew the bill on 8 December 2020 before the vote in the state parliament. As a result, ARD and ZDF have announced legal action. The Federal Constitutional Court now regarded this targeted blockade by Saxony-Anhalt as a violation of the freedom of broadcasting enshrined in the Basic Law.
The reason: It is only possible to deviate from the recommendation of the KEF in very specific exceptional cases. However, this must be decided jointly by all federal states, while the blocking behavior of Saxony-Anhalt is not constitutionally permitted.
If a country does not fulfil its co-guarantee obligation and this makes it impossible to fulfil the fundamental right to financing, this already constitutes a violation of the freedom of broadcasting., the decision states. And further:
The Submission of the Land of Saxony-Anhalt that it has been trying in vain for years among the Länder to reform public service broadcasting does not justify the deviation from the determination of the financial requirements. A single federal state cannot prevent the increase in the broadcasting fee.
The determination of the broadcasting fee must be free of media policy objectives. The principle of separation between the general broadcasting legislation and the determination of the broadcasting fee is intended to “exclude risks of indirect influence on the performance of the programme mandate and thus ensure the freedom of broadcasting broadcasters to programme”. The legislature must take precautions to ensure that the
Technical, organizational, personnel and financial preconditions necessary for the fulfilment of the classic functional mandate that is what we are against.
Specifically, it has now been decided: The broadcasting fee will increase from 17.50 to 18.36 euros with immediate effect from 20 July. On the other hand, a retroactive increase in the contribution for the first half of 2021 was not approved, but ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio are still entitled to compensation for the missing revenues. The provisions now adopted are a transitional interim arrangement – primarily to secure the necessary financial resources for the public sector. Because now the procedure starts all over again and will again take some time until the new state treaty regulation comes into force.
The assessment of the effects of the omitted contribution adjustment on the broadcasters requires an opinion of the KEF as well as a new amending State Treaty with the consent of all Länder. In this context, “compensation requirements due to failure to adjust the contribution must be taken into account” in the next determination of the broadcasting fee, so that the broadcasting fee could be even slightly higher.
In doing so, the additional demand of broadcasters, which has arisen as a result of a postponement of investments and the use of necessary reserves, as well as any effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the financial needs of broadcasters and the reasonableness of increases in contributions for citizens, will have to be taken into account.
In connection with the decision, the Federal Constitutional Court stressed the importance of public service broadcasting in times
increased complex information volume on the one hand and of one-sided representations, filter bubbles, fake news, deep fakes on the other hand. It is not only for this reason that the importance of contribution-financed public service broadcasting is growing with the task incumbent on them,
through authentic, carefully researched information that distinguishes facts and opinions, does not distort reality and does not bring the sensational to the fore, but rather to form a diversity-securing and orientation counterweight.
ZDF welcomes the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court on the broadcasting fee. Artistic Director Dr. Thomas Bellut:
The clear decision of the Karlsruhe judges confirmsand strengthens the independence of public service broadcasting. This will enable ZDF to reliably plan for the coming years and continue to offer audiences a high-quality programme.