New funding regime for Public Service Broadcasting in Germany: Interstate Treaty envisages a household and company contribution by 1 January 2013

Credits: Thomas Wanhoff/ Creative Commons

In December 2011, pill the “Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Contribution” (Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag) received final approval by the legislature. All sixteen state parliaments (Länderparlamente) enacted a new funding regime for Public Service Broadcasting in Germany, and proposed by the sixteen state governments (Landesregierungen). The new legislation marks a fundamental shift. It places an obligation on every household and company to contribute to public service broadcasting. The pre-existing legislation provided that the fee was only to be paid on the basis of an actual device – a television set, decease radio or a computer- following notification by the holder. The new regime links the fee to the private flat or a company, irrespective of any device.

The Interstate Treaty was adopted to ensure the future basis of the public service broadcasters’ financial foundation as it was assumed that a growing number of persons obliged to notify their broadcasting receivers did not adhere to the previous law. In addition, the new law shall mirror the new user behaviour. Online content in the form of news websites and on-demand videos provided by public service broadcasters has partly replaced traditional TV consumption. This development was not reflected in the previous licence-fee regime: the monthly fees for computers were distinct from the fees for TV-sets.

The new legislation provides for a unified monthly contribution of 17,89 Euros, payable by every private household or company from 1 January 2013 onwards. The number of persons living in a household or the number of technical devices allowing for the receipt of broadcasting or audiovisual services do no longer determine the fee. Exception clauses temper the financial burden as regards specific private households and companies either by excluding them from payment or by reducing their contribution. This counts for financially disadvantaged groups relying on social welfare, persons with disabilities and companies working in charity sections or other socially important non-profit areas. An incremental and moderate increase in the contribution is applicable to any other company. The number of employees determines the actual amount of the payment. For instance small (up to 49 employees) and medium sized (up to 249 employees) companies are to pay three and five full fees of 17,89 Euros respectively.

Concerns have been expressed regarding data collection during the first years of the application of the new system. Generally, every household or company is obliged to inform the competent regional public service broadcaster about its existence. Moreover, the competent public service broadcasters are to receive and evaluate in an initial period of two years all resident data from public authorities (i.e. city councils and city administrations). The broadcasters will thus be able to adjust the payments and the data transferred from the notification procedure to the existing data on registered households in any given town. The information provided will be restricted to basic data and will only be used to find legally obliged households. While this procedure ensures justified payment on the one side, the data protection implications cannot be denied.

The contribution of 17,89 Euros will presumably be stable during a four year period (2013-2016), according to the Commission Determining Financial Needs (Kommission zur Ermittlung des Finanzbedarfs, KEF). The Commission is an independent body of sixteen experts with the mandate to establish the financial needs of the public service broadcasters.

The German version of the “Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Contribution” (Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag) can be downloaded here (in the form of the 15th Interstate Treaty amending the Interstate Treaties on Broadcasting).