Accessibility links

Breaking News

Germany: TV Councils Not As Politicized As Czech One

German political analysts say it is unlikely that public television stations there would face a crisis like that now underway at Czech Television, where journalists are protesting the appointment of a director whom many believe is too close to some political parties. Germans believe their system limits the possibilities for any one party to influence coverage. RFE/RL's Munich correspondent Roland Eggleston examines the basic elements of German public television.

Munich, 5 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Control of public media in Germany is largely in the hands of television and radio councils at the state and regional level.

In contrast to the situation in the Czech Republic, where the main television council is composed of mostly political appointees, in Germany, these watchdog councils include members drawn from other groups in society, including the church and commercial interests.

Surveys show the average German believes the councils' balance limits one-sided political influence on television programs. However, few deny that at times the political parties do use their power to influence the type of programs are shown.

Political analyst Arnold Pottinger tells RFE/RL that political parties often do try to influence the selection of senior officials, particularly the director, but their ability to do so is far from total.

He says: "Formally, it is the television council which selects the director general." He continues: "Of course, political interests play an important role in making the selection, but they have to take into account the views of the non-political groups on the council. This generally has a moderating effect on political pressure."

There are three state-owned television networks in Germany. The nationwide stations are the ARD, which is a joint production by the German states, and ZDF, or Second German Television. In addition, there is a so-called "Third Program," or regional television, which is created by individual states or groups of states.

The objective of state-owned TV is to provide programs which are balanced and fair. This is particularly evident in political coverage. Whenever the government introduces a law or comments on the political situation, state-run TV stations immediately carry comments by spokesmen for the leading opposition parties.

Commercial stations in Germany do not have the same obligation. Most do try to match statements from one political party with comments from another but not to the same extent as the public stations.

Oversight and control of state-owned TV is shared by three bodies: the TV councils, the administration council, and the director general.

The TV councils in each state are made up of representatives of political parties, religions, cultural groups and the economy. Its task is to ensure the interests of these groups are covered fairly by public television.

Members of the TV councils are nominated by the appropriate organizations. Those representing political parties are selected either by the state parliament or directly by the individual political parties represented in parliament.

The TV councils also advise the director in shaping programs and monitors the contents of programs to ensure they comply with the basic requirement of balance and fairness. The councils have a prominent role in choosing members of the administration council, which decides the budget for public TV and maintains oversight of the administration.

The TV councils are also formally responsible for selecting the directors of public TV in each state. However, in practice, the governing political party in the state has considerable influence.

German media report daily on the changing events at Czech Television but have been fairly restrained in their commentaries.

One of the country's most prominent newspapers. the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," described the crisis as an "unparalleled power struggle for influence over public television."

Another leading newspaper, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" in Munich, said the crisis in Czech Television reflects the fact that a decade after the Velvet Revolution, many citizens are disappointed by the political class. The newspaper says if the current director of Czech TV, Jiri Hodac, withdraws from the post of director general of Czech Television, it might resolve the crisis but it will not restore political peace.