Sunday, September 18, 2016

Explaining State-run TV and the Media Tax

The driving force in the 1950s as state-run TV came to exist in Germany was to provide a vehicle that would give the public some entertainment, valued culture, news, education and public forums.  I should emphasize the word "some" in this case.

If you go and drag the executives who run ZDF and ARD into a forum.....they will tell you that public-run TV in Germany is a great asset, and that they strive to meet this wide spectrum of goals.

When they talk about culture, it's a theme where documentaries are produced that resemble National Geographic production shows, or some classical musical or opera.  It's a theme that roughly ten-percent of German society appreciate.

So, what you have is two significant networks and another twenty sub-networks that feed off the two and their material.

Part of the weakness of the system is that they are trying to be all things for all people, and mostly failing at this.  The younger viewers (under age twenty-five) have mostly drifted away from state-run TV.  Presently.....units like Netflix are picking up more and more young German viewers.

The formula for the entertainment side?  Movies are regularly produced off award-winning books in Germany, but they tend to fall into three categories.....murder mysteries, light-hearted humor, and game-shows (which typically feature science or health in some fashion).  Science Fiction is non-existent.

Some of the anger and frustration shown in the 1980s when commercial TV did finally arrive was that they would not be showing culture or proper respect to the intellectual type viewers.  To which the commercial networks said "Yes, you are absolutely correct, and that the public is sick and tired of the formula".   The commercial networks have survived and found the majority of Germans do enjoy their material.  Entertainment or culture for the intellectuals?  Zero priority within commercial TV.  Maximum priority within state-run TV.  It is that simple.

Around a decade ago, with increasing pressure going against state-run TV....the tax was revamped.  It used to be based off how many TVs and radios you had.  Now the new tax is 17.50 Euro a month for each residence, and it doesn't matter how many TVs or radios you have.  To be honest, most Germans had stopped being honest on the quantity of TVs in the house anyway. The other angle to this is that public TV noted that the internet was becoming a big deal and people were starting to watch TV off their computer or laptop.  So the new tax said even if you DIDN'T have a TV or radio in the house.....by having a laptop or computer, you might be receiving their signal so you had to pay.  The new TV tax was really a media-tax.

Because of the method of control......the Bundestag and the political parties have very little control over state-run TV.  This was done in the 1950s to prevent the parties from firing people or pumping up agendas.  With a governing board of 70-odd members.....the board is a tool with minimum ability to really shift or move the ZDF or ARD empires.  Both networks know this and rarely worry about public sentiment.

Social media criticism?  Oddly, over the past two years.....social media criticism has finally begun to force the two networks and their various employees to consider public feelings.  Anger and frustration are readily apparent now.  There's an entire generation of viewer (under the age of 25) who has zero interest in continuing the media tax or state-run TV.  Some political folks think that something needs to change.

My humble opinion is that the two networks and the board will try to stall any significant change.  At some point, maybe after the 2017 election or the 2021 election....there will be enough votes to close ranks and force some change to occur.  The networks will use the Constitutional Court to fight this off and find some support, but public frustration will only grow.

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