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Germany/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity

Only in recent years have the media become a greater focus of public cultural policy in the narrower sense. Prior to this, only measures to promote the film sector were adopted by both the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder) in order to further the development of film as an element of the country's cultural heritage and to support it as a national culture industry.

Establishment of the freedom of expression in Article 5 of the Basic Law

Entrenched in Article 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany "every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship."

The dual broadcasting system

Television and radio programmes in Germany are produced and broadcasted by both public corporations and private firms. This so-called "dual system" of broadcasting was stressed by the 4th broadcasting decision of the Federal Constitutional Court. Public service broadcasting in Germany is of particular significance because it is obliged to fulfil the educational mandate and guarantee the independent basic services with information, education, counselling and entertainment; its programmes have to contribute particularly to culture. Due to that, lower basic standards in diversity are tolerated concerning private broadcasting because public service broadcasting is in charge of the basic care.

The Interstate Broadcasting Agreement and its amendments

It is the goal of the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement ("Rundfunkstaatsvertrag", 1.RStV 1987, 18th amendment of 2016) to establish a set of rules concerning public service broadcasting and private broadcasting.

The 12th amendment (2009) was of particular significance because it contained new regulations on the legitimacy of offers provided online by the broadcasting companies. According to the Agreement, public broadcasting corporations are generally not permitted to provide online access to their programmes and supplementary contents more than 7 days after the transmission. Offers are only permitted to remain online for longer than 7 days if they have been included into the telemediaconcept outlined by the broadcasting corporation and have passed the so-called Three-Steps-Test. Part of those exceptions are e.g. documentary reports and info programmes (period of accessibility: 12 months), cultural programmes (period of accessibility: up to 5 years) and programmes with historical or historical-cultural contents (unlimited). The 15th amendment (2013) of the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement entailed a paradigm shift concerning the broadcasting fees: The household contribution was introduced according to which the broadcasting fee is determined per household and not per broadcasting equipment.

On the 1 January 2016 the 18th amendment entered into force.

Diversity in radio broadcasting

The Interstate Broadcasting Agreement ("Rundfunkstaatsvertrag" of 31 August 1991, 18thamendment of 2016) determines in § 11 that in their programme offers, the public service broadcasting "shall provide a comprehensive overview of international, European, national and regional events in all major areas of life" in order to "further international understanding, European integration and the social cohesion on the federal and state levels". According to § 6 of the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement (18th amendment of 2016), "television broadcasters shall reserve the greater part of total time scheduled for the transmission of feature films, television plays, series, documentaries and comparable productions for European works in accordance with European law". There are nevertheless no official quotas to which the broadcasters must adhere. Culture and media policy in the Federal Republic of Germany has thus far reflected the view that the imposition of quotas – also in regard to certain groups – is an unsuitable instrument for the promotion of European films and television productions.

Regulations under community law

Media policy formulated at the European level is also of increasing importance for the relation between the media and culture. The EU Television Without Frontiers Directive of 1989/1997 is playing a particularly prominent role in this context. As a result of the – in some cases breathtakingly – rapid pace of technological developments in the media sector, the EU Television Without Frontiers Directive was revised in the past few years. In 2007, the amendment of the Council directive 89/552/EWG on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities became effective which had to be transposed and implemented in the national law of the member states until 2009. In the course of this revision, attention to other Community regulatory instruments affecting the media are to be considered.

Legally binding on the press, publishers and audiovisual mass media are the general provisions of the Law Against Limitations on Competition (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen - GWB), as the central standard of German Law on Cartels and Competition. The original version, dating from 1957, has been amended several times - the comprehensive 8th Amending Bill came into force in November 2013 - and is regularly brought into line with European legislation on competition. The Federal Cartel Office, or, where only individual federal states (Länder) are affected, the federal states Cartel Authorities, are in charge of supervising the compliance with the GWB. In recent years, the Federal Cartel Office has frequently forbidden mergers between publishing houses or TV companies.

Culture channels on radio and television

The German television landscape comprises several stations, which mainly focus on cultural content. In the initial period, especially the so-called third television channels showed characteristics of cultural programmes. (When the third television channels, varying from region to region, came on the air in addition to the to date only two German television channels) The development of independent cultural channels started in the mid-eighties, such as 3sat (1984), ARTE (1992) or ZDFkultur (2011), which emerged from ZDFtheaterkanal. Although ZDFkultur is supposed to be discontinued, a definite end date of transmission has not yet been set.

The German radio has as well channels specialised on cultural programmes, for example hr2 Kultur (1950), WDR 3 (1964), Deutschlandradio Kultur (1994), SR 2 KulturRadio (1995), SWR2 (1998), kulturradio (2003, previously RADIOkultur since 1997), ARTE radio (2002) or NDRkultur (2003). Funkhaus Europa, one of the international German radio channels, has recently started to transmit the Refugee Radio at certain times of the day, a special service in English and Arabic, providing news concerning the current situation in Germany and the political discussion.

Chapter published: 30-08-2016

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