Sunday, September 11, 2016

The German Public TV Debate

The topic of public TV came up this weekend in German news.  CSU's Seehofer was asked a few questions and came to remark that he didn't think that the two national networks (ARD and ZDF), both state-run.....should continue as separate organizations.  It made no sense.  He would like to see both combined....lessen resources, personnel and eventually cost to the public.

If you went to real people (in some pub or in a cafe).....Germans hate the TV tax (17.50 Euro a month per house), but they want some part of public TV to continue.  Under the age of 25....it's hard to find anyone who is enthusiastic about state-run German TV.

TV is an interesting topic in Germany.  It was the first place where TV was ever introduced....spring of 1935 out of Berlin.....briefly each week, around 90 minutes on three separate days were broadcast.  No one ever cites number and I doubt if there were more than 500 TVs existing during this period prior to 1945.  No one says much about the format or discussion of that original period of German TV.

After the war, up in the extreme north part of Germany.....the British were responsible for the rebuilding process, and they helped to bring up NWDR in 1948.  Entertainment and information were the chief products of this early stage of German TV.  It helped in the mid-1950s for German sets to lessen in price and become a regular household item.

In the mid-1950s....ARD was the one and only national network.  It was state-sponsored.  If you look back at the Constitution that existed in this period.....it laid out the responsibility to individual states (NOT the federal government).  It is one of the curious parts of the history of German TV.

In the early 1960s....the federal government of Germany decided to fund and operate the 2nd channel (ZDF).  It would be centrally located.....out of the Frankfurt region.  A fair amount of criticism was laid out in this plan because it was a federal project and violated the wording of the Constitution.

The true difference between ARD and ZDF in the beginning?  ARD was a regionalized system and had a lot of character which related to Hamburg and Bremen.  Their humor and topics were more related to that region than any other part of Germany.  It can also be said that ARD hyped up radio usage and controlled the vast radio empire around Germany.....but also used music popular from the Hamburg region (rock was very popular because of British influence on the area).

For about a decade, ZDF operated out of it's studios in Frankfurt which had limitations.  Most everyone saw growth coming and new technology as part of this.  In the mid-1970s.....ZDF moved to west side of Mainz....into the Pfalz state.  If you go to the studio compound of ZDF today....it's an ultra modern site of a number of buildings.

A board of 77 individuals today monitors and "controls" ZDF.  What is generally said is that the German federal government....out of Berlin.....has no ability to influence or control the network.  At best, only three of the 77 are federal representatives, and another dozen are party-affiliated.  The rest have no federal connection.

The other side of this is that there is no real influence that the 77 on the board can do....except to deny money or just lightly criticize the direction of state-run TV in Germany.

The idea of combining the two networks?  I think it would start an all-out war by both and they'd continually demonstrate that they are each unique and there is no pay-back for one single network.  The voice of the 77 board members?  It's to say if they would seek to protect their two-network situation or seek to drag the two into a consolidation process.

First and foremost....which network would survive?  An entire network shut down in Mainz, or in Hamburg?  The reporters hired and working?  You would assume that half would be let go, but it's very doubtful that the networks would agree to this.You'd probably have to keep all of the reporters and allow as retirements occur.....at least for a decade....only one replacement for each two retiring.

Actually saving money?  I think the people who run both ZDF and ARD.....plus the 77 board members....have a limit vision of cutting costs or saving money.

Seehofer's suggestion might attract a lot of talk in an election year and get a quarter of population really hyped up on this idea.  Getting it passed with opposition from the SPD, Green Party and Linke Party?  Zero chance.

If you were looking for two organizations who would fight tooth and nail against consolidation across all of the globe.....I'd put these two at the top of the charts.

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