Mandatory broadcaster fees go before high court
DPA/The Local · 16 Mar 2016, 12:47
Published: 16 Mar 2016 11:43 GMT+01:00
Updated: 16 Mar 2016 12:47 GMT+01:00
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It's one of the biggest complaints expats have upon moving to Germany - the €17.50 monthly fee for public TV and radio broadcasters, which since 2013 must be paid by every household, whether or not they have a television or radio.
Now, the Rundfunkbeitrag (broadcasting contribution) faces a decision by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.
The broadcasters Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR) and Bayerische Rundfunk are specifically named in the suits.
The first 14 complaints will be heard on Wednesday and Thursday, arguing that the contribution model is unfair and unconstitutional.
Broadcasters, though, argue that the fee is justified because most people have computers, smartphones and other devices that can play their content.
The fee amounted to roughly €8.3 billion in the pockets of the broadcasters in 2014, according to Die Zeit.
A decision by the court is expected on Friday, but eight more suits will be heard in June and another four at the end of the year. These last few cases are specifically about whether businesses should have to pay the fees.
If the Leipzig court decides that the broadcasting fees are not constitutional, the case would have to go to the Constitutional Court for its interpretation. Likewise, if the administrative court rules in favour of the broadcasters, the complainants could still appeal the case to the Constitutional Court.
"But that is of course in the end the clients' decision," said a lawyer for several private plaintiffs.
Before the 2013 reform, the broadcaster fee was collected depending on how many devices, such as TVs and radios, each household had. Inspectors would come door-to-door to check on the number, but some people would hide electronics or avoid answering the door.
A survey at the end of last month by opinion research firm INSA and magazine Focus showed that 70 percent of respondents said they no longer wanted to pay the fees.