RBB affair: Public law before the clean-up process | free press

The affair about alleged nepotism and conspicuous privileges for the resigned ARD boss and RBB director is hitting public broadcasting in difficult times. It’s about money, but also about structures.


The affair about director Patricia Schlesinger at the ARD broadcaster RBB has not even been clarified. Now even the public prosecutor’s office has gotten involved.

And a threatening damage to the image of the entire public broadcasting landscape has long since arisen. Not only Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) is facing the big cleanup and a new start that many are now demanding. The case has long been broadcast on ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio. Not only system critics react with sharp attacks.

Massage seats in the luxury company car

Tough, agonizing weeks are behind everyone. Since the online medium “Business Insider” got the whole thing rolling at the end of June, there have been more and more headlines about the self-confident Schlesinger, who before her time at RBB worked, among other things, as an ARD correspondent abroad and for the NDR magazine “Panorama ” deserved merits. It’s about alleged nepotism and conspicuous privileges for the 61-year-old. And a possibly too lax approach to the professional and private relationship with the station chief controller Wolf-Dieter Wolf.

The media dressed the whole thing up with details: massage seats in the luxurious company car, for which there was a high “government discount”, including a private chauffeur. Massage chairs in the executive floor, pimped with parquet flooring and chic furniture for 650,000 euros. 16 percent salary increase to 303,000 euros. There was also a previously unknown and still not publicly quantified bonus.

The menu sequence for guests at RBB’s expense in Schlesinger’s private apartment was quoted with relish in the presence of her husband, who in turn acted as a consultant for the Berlin trade fair, whose supervisory board chairman Wolf also chaired the RBB board of directors. The public prosecutor’s office is investigating all three ex officio because of the initial suspicion of infidelity and acceptance of advantages.

The presumption of innocence applies until clarification

Further details: Contracts for consultants for a construction project for a “digital media house” for the broadcaster – which has now been put on hold after public pressure. Even Schlesinger’s RBB departure is still accompanied by speculation as to whether there could be a severance payment, because in her letter of resignation to the RBB supervisory bodies she insisted on contractual clauses and brought her lawyer into play.

The presumption of innocence applies to Schlesinger until the clarification. The 61-year-old was determined to remain in office during an investigation by an outside law firm that was digging through gigabytes of documents from the broadcaster. Her communication strategy – not appearing in the state parliament in Potsdam when invited, but then giving interviews – is described by many as a big mistake, perhaps the tipping point of the affair. A semi-resignation followed on Thursday with the withdrawal from the ARD chairmanship, which she had only taken up at the beginning of the year. After that, many wondered how Schlesinger could still hold on to the RBB leadership. On Sunday it was finally over there too. Actually, her RBB tenure would have lasted until 2026.

In France, the license fee has been abolished

The case has European dimensions: In France, the financing of public broadcasters is being reorganized. Parliament has passed the abolition of the license fee – President Emmanuel Macron propagated this during the election campaign. Some MPs have called the Council of State, so it’s not set in stone yet. In Great Britain, the BBC is under enormous pressure, ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was happy to ignite plans to cut fees and freeze state subsidies for the public service BBC. Public service broadcasting is currently under international pressure. At least where it is. In the US, for example, he plays a supporting role at best.

In Germany, too, ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio, which continue to have a very wide distribution and high number of users, have been under pressure to justify themselves for years. They are financed by broadcasting contributions of around 8 billion euros annually. The monthly contribution increase to 18.36 euros last year was not a sure-fire success – Saxony-Anhalt had blocked it. The Federal Constitutional Court put the whole thing through for the time being.

The pressure to justify increases

The AfD relies on confrontation when it comes to public broadcasting, and there is always dissatisfaction from the ranks of the Union. The broadcasters are due for the next round of funding in the fall, and they will again have to justify themselves in more critical state parliaments. The federal states also want to reform the financing of the broadcasting system in the future, which is regulated in a state treaty. Schlesinger should have negotiated all of this. According to the allegations unthinkable. Her predecessor as ARD boss, WDR director Tom Buhrow, must first take over.

The danger emanating from the Schlesinger affairs seems to have been recognized in politics: Petra Budke, leader of the Greens in the Potsdam state parliament, said that public broadcasting needed clear transparency rules for the use of the funds from the contributions. Because the “bitter” opponents of the system would try to exploit the current discussion for their goals. Those critics who keep blaming ARD and ZDF: for example for the abundance of more than 60 ARD radio stations, for high investments in sports rights and the system of broadcasting fees.

The media policy spokesman for the SPD in the Bundestag, Helge Lindh, emphasized that anyone who “willfully exploited” the Schlesinger case in order to put an end to the public broadcasters was acting negligently and dishonestly. He called for up-to-date compliance systems and whistleblowing hotlines for all public corporations – in order to disentangle felt. The media policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Thomas Hacker, said: “It is now crucial that public broadcasting regains lost trust and that all broadcasters fundamentally review their compliance mechanisms, even if it is not a systemic failure.” (dpa)


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