A look at the range of programmes offered by private broadcasters and the advertising blocks during the film breaks is enough to establish that their primary tasks are not information and cultural enrichment. They are about business, taking advantage of primitive needs awakened by themselves. Similar to fast food, they want to fix the customers, want to arouse desire to buy, eat, show off. And that is precisely why a consortium of interests from business and politics created the private TV stations in the 1980s. In addition to the profit interests, there was also another motive: “Our policy regarding RTL-plus was always aimed at securing a connection of RTL to the conservative camp or preventing a slide to the left,” wrote the CSU politician Edmund Stoiber to the Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss in 1988 (FR, 31.10.1988).
More demanding sections of the population were promised a high-quality bulwark of independence as compensation: public broadcasting (ÖRR), consisting of ARD, ZDF, arte, 3sat, DW, KiKa, phoenix, ONE and the regional stations. Its mission: comprehensive, balanced information, education, culture and, of course, entertainment. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, he takes over the basic media supply – but has to face up to the competition in the market of intellectual flattening. In return, he receives a guarantee for stock, development and financing. The latter has to be done" off the state", i.e. not from tax funds, in order to exclude any state influence. So far law, jurisprudence and theory. The practice is, as always, more complicated.
The filling of lucrative and influential strategic positions in the ÖRR (directors, program directors) is already a political issue. Although the number of politicians sent by parties to the radio councils is now limited to one third. But if you look at the committees, you discover numerous business lobbyists and high association functionaries, to whom you take independence just as little as their remoteness from the state. And the newly appointed ARD programme director Christine Strobl (CDU), daughter of the CDU political veteran Wolfgang Schäuble and wife of the Baden-Württemberg Minister of the Interior Thomas Strobl (CDU), will have to fight hard for internal independence of the party and the state. The communication scientist Michael Meyen comes to the conclusion that politics currently controls journalism and determines who is in charge in the editorial offices (NachDenkSeiten, 28.12.2020). The audience has nothing to report, criticism and program complaints are weighed or flatly rejected.
The orientation of the information broadcasts also requires a critical consideration. Although the coverage of the ÖRR according to various surveys enjoys a high credibility (depending on the question up to 80 percent), much higher than the private broadcasters. However, 34 to 42 percent of respondents, almost half in eastern states, believe that there is an influence or even stipulations of politics on the reporting. And if one follows critical media observers, the independence of the flagship of public news programmes, the Tagesschau, is not in good order. This deserves attention, because it has an eminent influence on opinion formation in Germany: in times of the pandemic, the ratings of this old news format rose to about 17 million.
Based on the requirements of the Broadcasting State Treaty (which has just been replaced by a new media state Treaty), which prescribe truthful, comprehensive, objective and impartial reporting, the critics Maren Müller, Volker Bräutigam and Friedhelm Klinkhammer come to the conclusion that the Tagesschau by no means meets these criteria (“Zwischen Feindbild und Wetterbericht”, PapyRossa, 2019). With manipulative techniques of wording, framing and a narrative narrative as well as through one-sided selection and representation of events, the Tagesschau operates a “formatting of thoughts”.
The ÖRR does not control the power elite; rather, it ensures that nothing substantial changes in the conditions in society: child and old - age poverty, the privatisation of the health care system, the democratically unjustified rule of the corporations, the systematically generated housing shortage. In news and talk shows, political leaders are given the floor until the tired audience turns away. For example, on issues such as upgrading, pensions or environmental destruction. How did the annexation of the GDR take place, who benefited, how did the population lose? What background should be known and discussed in order to understand Russia’s policy? Understanding the interrelationships is prevented.
For foreign policy issues that are controversial in the public sphere (such as Russia/Ukraine, Venezuela or Syria), images of the enemy are generated, as the media experts Müller, Bräutigam and Klinkhammer show in their book and on the online platform “Permanent Audience Conference of the Public Media”. The list of criticisms, which you substantiate with dozens of examples, is long: government-related “experts” are interviewed, transatlantic think – tanks and intelligence services are issued as independent sources, geostrategic and energy – economic interests are not addressed, reports contradicting government policy-even expert reports by the scientific service of the Bundestag on illegal Bundeswehr operations-are suppressed. Her conclusion: “… we would certainly need journalistic independence, but you are guaranteed not to find it in the newsrooms of public service broadcasting.”
Does such substantial criticism justify the abolition of the ÖRR? The vultures are already waiting, you might think. As soon as Saxony - Anhalt was the only federal state to prevent the planned increase in broadcasting contributions by 86 cents for political reasons, other demands were made. The FDP Hessen demanded a privatization of ZDF. In" Wirtschaftswoche", journalist Bettina Röhl claimed that the public broadcasting system was unconstitutional; the only sensible cure for this sick system was privatization. The" Federal Committee on Economics, Jobs, Taxes " of the CDU demands a gradual privatization of ARD and ZDF. Instead of financing these stations, individual content should be paid for. The ÖRR is to be limited to tasks “which private providers cannot or only insufficiently guarantee”.
But the government parties also know about the proximity of the quota-strong news broadcasts and want to assert their sovereignty of interpretation. They have an instrumental relationship to fundamental rights, to principles of democracy and to the importance of the ÖRR, as the statement of the CDU candidate for Chancellor in pes, Friedrich Merz, shows: “We no longer need them.”
Conclusion: The abolition or privatization of the ÖRR by no means creates the necessary democratization and de facto autonomy of the broadcasters. The basis for this is rather the independence of economic-political interests. Only then is it ensured that journalism does justice to its task of controlling politics and communicating connections and backgrounds to the audience. For this purpose, the editorial offices must be strengthened and qualitative standards must be applied to the programme instead of ratings. Of course, this requires financial protection.
All the more thanks are due to the numerous journalists and editors, who often produce broadcasts without a fixed contract, which uncover, illuminate, contribute to a recognition of connections, an increase in knowledge and certainly also to a good conversation. As a fee-paying spectator, one would like to exclaim: You directors and program directors, finally take your function as a Fourth Force seriously! And adored audience: Use your rights!