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Broadcasting

Germany to lower broadcasting fee, despite protest

The mandatory broadcasting fee for all households in Germany is to be lowered next year, to 17 euros 50 cents per month. The decision was made by regional state premiers, despite protests among staff.

The premiers of Germany's 16 regional states decided on Thursday to lower the fee paid by householders for Germany's public broadcasting networks, starting next year. Staff councils at stations across Germany had urged premiers to keep the fee at its present level of just under 18 euros.

The cut decided by premiers meeting in Berlin was 48 cents, less than the 73 cents recommended late last year by the so-called KEF commission tasked with independently estimating what funding public stations need.

Under the German constitution, media matters are the prerogative of the regional states, the Länder.

Germany's public network - comprising the nine regional ARD stations, federal ZDF television based in Mainz, Deutschlandradio, and diverse special outlets, including online services - has a combined annual budget of 6.3 billion euros ($8.8 billion). Some 85 percent of this is sourced from fees collected.

The ARD employs 23,000 staff on salary, some part-time, plus numerous freelancers.

Stabilization aim

Announcing the decision, Rhineland Palatinate premier Malu Dreyer of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) said reducing the fee in 2015 would allow scope to readjust Germany's collection system and keep the fee stable until 2019.

Dreyer said the premiers had also discussed proposals to further reduce advertising but needed more financial "leeway" before doing away with that form of revenue. Advertising contributes to about 6 percent of the budget.

Germany's legislated broadcasting fee was changed to a mandatory per-household system in early 2013.

Previously, the fee was tied to the television receiver presumed to be in each home - a system which critics said encouraged covert viewing and radio listening, free of charge.

Private broadcasters highly dependent on advertising revenues often accuse the ARD of having an advantage.

Revenues up under new system

Last year, the KEF concluded that the new catch-all collection system for households had raked in an extra 667 million euros in fees in comparison to its original estimate when the collection method was changed.

Last week, the staff councils representing employees at the ARD stations had jointly appealed to the regional premiers not to reduce the fee, saying it would cost jobs and result in program quality declines.

Reacting on Thursday, ARD chairperson, Lutz Marmor, who is the director-general of NDR northern German public broadcasting, said the ministers' decision was a “Solomonic judgement” that gave the networks scope to pursue special projects, such as a bid to create a new channel for youth and young adults.

Evaluation missing, say critics

Opposition Left party media spokesman Harald Petzold said the premiers' decision was “false” because it was only based on a KEF estimate.

Before making what he called the "hectic" decision, the ministers should have awaited a promised evaluation of the new fee system, he said.

Reprieve for for small stations

Marmor also praised another decision made by the premiers on Thursday to readjust the ARD's internal funding allocations to better assist two small, financially struggling stations, Radio Bremen and Saarland Broadcasting.

Deutsche Welle is a 10th member of the ARD, but is directly funded by the federal Bundestag parliament and not via the broadcasting fee.

Attached to the stations in the ARD network are also orchestras, choirs and Germany's broadcasting archive based in Frankfurt and Potsdam.

ipj/jr (AFP, epd, dpa)

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