The state parliament in Saxony-Anhalt refused to agree to an increase in the amount of radio licenses. Now ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio have filed constitutional complaints with the highest German court.

Saxony-Anhalt’s blockade of higher broadcasting costs in Germany is now a matter for the Federal Constitutional Court. There are lawsuits from ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio, a spokesman for the court told the German news agency on Friday. In addition to constitutional complaints, requests for interim relief were also filed. The ARD informed the dpa: “With the urgent procedure, a preliminary decision could be made until the constitutional complaint is resolved.”

With this, the broadcasters oppose the failure of the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt to approve the state treaty, which provides for an increase in the broadcast allowance to 18.36 euros per month on January 1, 2021. The spokesman for the court also announced : “A decision date cannot be predicted at the moment.”

Blocking by 86 cents

This week, Saxony-Anhalt blocked the adjustment of the radio license fee, which currently stands at $ 17.50, with an increase of 86 cents, as Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff (CDU) withdrew the bill from the state parliament before the vote. The ruling CDU could have formed a majority there with the largest opposition party, the AfD, which has many seats in parliament, contrary to the stance of its coalition partners SPD and the Greens.

Because all states must reach agreement by the end of the year, the state treaty cannot enter into force. The license fee is the main source of income for the public broadcasters. It would be the first increase in the radio license fee since 2009. On Friday, the ARD committee, as the supervisory body of the state broadcasters, supported the lawsuit. “This is immediately necessary to avoid damage to media diversity and opinion formation,” said Chairman Andreas Meyer-Lauber.

Bremen and Saarland support lawsuits

The state broadcasting committee met in the afternoon for a special session to discuss the situation after the blockade. Details initially remained unknown. The day before, it was announced that Saarland and Bremen would support the broadcasters’ complaints and send their own statement to Karlsruhe.

The background to this is that the smallest ARD broadcasters, Radio Bremen and Saarländischer Rundfunk, are located in the two federal states and already have to be supported by other ARD broadcasters in a financial equalization arrangement. For them, the State Treaty would also have meant that the share of financial equalization would have increased.

Rhineland-Palatinate State Secretary Heike Raab (SPD), who also coordinates the media policy of the State Broadcasting Commission, said Thursday that all other countries that have signed the State Treaty also want to be actively involved in the process. Saxony-Anhalt was the only wobbly candidate in the contribution plus question.

Fear a financial gap of 1.5 billion euros

That households in Germany should pay 86 cents more per month for the radio license is based on a recommendation from an independent commission, which regularly calculates the financial needs of the broadcasters. Then the prime ministers and the state parliaments decide – but according to the legal situation, they must follow the recommendation closely.

For the next four years, a financial gap of the public broadcaster of 1.5 billion euros is foreseen – this is how the premium income comes about. Costs for program content are included in the calculations, and adjustments to collective wages and pensions play a role.

According to previous information from the subscription service, the income of the broadcasters in 2019 was approximately 8.07 billion euros. The number of contribution accounts last year was approximately 46.1 million. Most of about 40 million are apartments. Companies also have to pay broadcasting costs, including for their vehicles. Hotels and holiday apartments are also listed. However, under certain conditions it is also possible to be exempted from the premium obligation.

Cuts in the austerity program

Some broadcasters indicated that without 86 cents cuts would be made to the program. Initially, no concrete consequences were mentioned. ZDF Director Thomas Bellut said in Friday’s television council meeting, “We can only save in the short term by primarily placing orders with manufacturing companies. That would be painful. These companies produce a large part of our program.”

The chairman of the ZDF television council, Marlehn Thieme, said in view of the legal action that there was “a certain urgency”. The council is, among other things, the independent supervisor of the programming of the broadcaster. In a resolution tabled, he considered the blockade in Magdeburg a “clearly irrelevant political decision”. This would harm the public broadcaster and the constitutionally guaranteed distance from the state.

The television council also approved the budget of the ZDF, headquartered in Mainz, for the coming year. This provides for costs of 2.6 billion euros, the total result is expected to be a loss of approximately 2.6 million euros. The job losses that started years ago will also have reached the target by the end of the year. In total, 562 jobs and about 10 percent of the workforce were cut during the austerity program.

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