Germany News

Top court deliberates whether compulsory broadcaster fees are legal

The court will hear arguments on Wednesday concerning the Rundfunkbeitrag (broadcasting contribution) in order to determine whether the payment is constitutional.

The required payment, which is €17.50 per month for every resident in Germany, received greater attention after a recent crackdown on those withholding payment. Now the High Court in Karlsruhe will hear from four different complaints against the radio fee, which include three individuals and one car rental company.

The plaintiffs argue that the fee is unconstitutional, in part because it raises money from citizens independently of uses: someone who has two radios and three television sets must pay exactly the same amount as someone with no access to television or radio.

In the commercial sector, the contribution is calculated according to the number of sites, company cars and employees.

They further argue that the payment is a tax, which individual states in Germany do not have the right to levy without higher approval.

According to a February survey by the YouGov Institute, 44 percent of respondents thought the radio contribution was too high – and 43 percent no longer want to pay it.

"Public service broadcasting is far too expensive," said Robert Splett, one of the plaintiffs.

Politically, too, there is an increasing resistance to the fee. The Free Democrats (FDP), for example, want to significantly reduce the contribution.

AfD politicians also criticise the levy as "forced financing" and demanded the termination of the State Broadcasting Treaty. The AfD is also criticised that, contrary to their educational and information mandate, public broadcasters do not report comprehensively and impartially enough.

From the perspective of the public broadcasters, though, the payment is necessary. The monthly contribution is the most important source of income for ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio and is meant to ensure that broadcasting agencies remain editorially independent.

ZDF editor-in-chief Peter Frey said in January that the collective fees are needed to keep journalism unbiased and to strike an even balance in reporting. ARD, ZDF and co. also point out that, thanks to the contributions, they can make high-quality news available for all.

In 2016, the broadcasters raised almost eight billion euros – around €150 million less than in the previous year.

Up to this point, the lower courts in Germany have all ruled that the broadcast contribution is legal. The German Administrative Court also declared the broadcasting fee to be constitutional on several occasions, and in December 2016 rejected complaints by the car rental company Sixt and the discounter Netto.

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