It is only in recent years that the media became a greater focus of public cultural policy. Only film funding was previously considered to be an object of this policy area. It is administered by the Federal Government and the Federal States (Länder) in order to promote film as a cultural asset and to support the national cultural industry.
Anchoring freedom of opinion in Article 5 of the Basic Law
Article 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany stipulates that everyone has the right “to freely express and disseminate his or her opinion in word, writing and pictures and to obtain information from generally accessible sources without hindrance. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.”
The dual broadcasting system
Television and radio programmes in Germany are produced and broadcasted by both public service broadcasters and private companies. This so-called “dual broadcasting system” was emphasised by the Federal Constitutional Court in its 4th broadcasting decision on radio and television of November 1986. Public service broadcasting in Germany is of particular significance due to its obligation to fulfil the educational mandate and guarantee the independent basic supply of information, education, advice and entertainment; its programmes have to contribute particularly to culture. Private broadcasting, on the other hand, is therefore permissible with a lower basic standard of diversity, since public service broadcasting assumes the task of providing basic services.
The Interstate Broadcasting Agreement and its amendments
The objective of the Interstate Broadcasting Agreement (“Rundfunkstaatsvertrag”, 1.RStV 1987, 18th amendment of 2016) is to establish a set of rules concerning public service broadcasting and private broadcasting.
Of particular importance was the 12th Amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (2009) with new regulations for the admissibility of the broadcasters’ content on the internet. According to these regulations, public broadcasters may no longer make their programmes and accompanying information available for retrieval after the broadcast, as a rule after 7 days. Offerings going beyond this are permitted for longer if they are included in the broadcaster’s tele media concept and have passed the so-called three-step test. These include, for example, documentaries and information programmes (duration of offer: 12 months), cultural programmes (up to 5 years) and programmes with cultural history content (unlimited). The 15th Amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty, which came into force in 2013, brought about a paradigm shift with regard to broadcasting financing: the budget levy was introduced, according to which broadcasting fees were no longer charged per device but per household. In the 19th Amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty, which came into force in 2016, ARD and ZDF commissioned an online youth service.
On May 1st 2019, the 22nd Amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty came into force, which reorganises the tele media remit of the public service broadcasters: online offerings are to focus on moving images and sound in order to differentiate themselves from the offerings of press publishers, while at the same time being given more leeway in terms of the duration of their provision.
On December 5th 2019, the Minister Presidents of the Federal States adopted the draft for an Interstate Media Treaty, thus replacing the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty. In future, the Interstate Media Treaty will also apply to so-called media platforms, intermediaries and user interfaces. The text has to be notified to the European Commission and ratified by the federal state parliaments and is expected to come into force in autumn 2020.
Diversity in radio broadcasting
The Interstate Broadcasting Agreement (“Rundfunkstaatsvertrag” of 31 August 1991, 18th amendment of 2016) determines in § 11that 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 “promote 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.
Culture channels on radio and television
The German television landscape comprises several stations, which mainly
focus on cultural content. In the initial period, the third channels in
particular showed characteristics of cultural programmes. The development of
own cultural channels started in the mid-1980s, such as 3sat (1984), ARTE
(1992) or ZDFkultur (2011), which emerged from ZDFtheaterkanal. ZDFkultur
existed until 2016; in February 2019 ZDFkultur was revived as a digital
offering in the ZDF Media Library. The brand bundles the cultural content of
ZDF, 3sat and arte.
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).
COSMO (until 2016: Funkhaus Europa), one of the international German radio
channels, has recently started to transmit the Refugee Radioat certain times of the day, a special service in English and
Arabic, providing news concerning the current situation in Germany and the
 In July 2018, the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed the constitutionality of the broadcasting contribution in principle. However, it objected to the double payment for second homes and called on the legislator to adapt the current regulations by June 2020.