Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Politicians set to change rules for German radio and TV because they don't like the newcomers

With a budget to rival that of the American NSA, give or take a billion depending on Euro-Dollar exchange rates, German "public broadcasting" is a behemoth that easily dwarfs the country's private broadcasters.

Originally chaperoned by the Allies after World War II, West German politicians managed to get a tight grip on the nominally independent state broadcasters, and the old political parties are not in the mood to relinquish any of this power.

There was a very brief window around the early 2000s, when several state prime ministers got together and hashed out a plan to prune back the sprawling networks to the original charter of providing basic coverage. As soon as these prime ministers were out of office, the backlash began, and it was spectacularly successful. A new broadcasting "fee" structure introduced a few years ago removed all doubt by forcing every resident to pay for the service despite a majority of Germans opposing mandatory fees.

We won't bore you with the fine points of political influence exercised at all levels but stick to one that is making the news after the substantial gains of the new party AfD in last Sunday's state elections.

All public broadcasters have a "broadcasting council" charged with electing the CEO of the broadcaster, advising the CEO on programming matters, ensuring legal compliance, signing off on the budget. etc.  The council is supposed to reflect the composition of civil society.

What this means is that representatives of the churches, major sports associations, the trade unions, the music teachers, charities, and so forth share the council with politicians from the state parliaments.

State parliaments across Germany have found ways to exclude members of small parties of the legislature from getting even one seat on these councils:
1) By only allowing legislators from the top three parties in the state to be elected to a council.
2) By setting council membership periods to six years as opposed to the four year legislature cycle, making it so that no new members are elected in one or more states depending on the legislative election cycle. If a small party turns out to be a "one hit wonder", it never gets a council seat.
3) By not setting a quota for the legislature parties and requiring a full majority of votes, which the small parties can never muster.
4) The latest proposition from the northern city states is even more refined: allowing only legislators to stand for a vote whose party has an official "legislative caucus". The instrument of "legislative caucus" means that a certain number of seats are needed to enjoy the full benefits of the legislature, thus depriving independents or small parties of certain privileges. It's a two class legislature - and completely legal under German law.

Very conveniently, these rules exclude new parties almost all the time because it takes a cycle or more to grow in popularity.

With the entrance of the "populist right" AfD, outspoken critics of the "tax like" fee to boot, more efforts to exclude small parties of all political persuasions seem inevitable.

Don't expect to see this topic discussed on German television.

Of course, there is no representative for the social segment "agnostics" on any council either.

Minorities, except for a handful specifically protected as a result of World War II, do not fare very well in Germany.

[Update 3/17/2016] Many of the "organizations of civil society" are to some extent led by sitting politicians or members of state government and receive government funding. The German music council receives funding from three government agencies and from several government affiliated organizations. The board of its commercial arm features several government officials as well as a Mr. Mayer, a representative of Bavaria's "public broadcaster".

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