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First person ever jailed over public broadcaster fee

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First person ever jailed over public broadcaster fee
A man at an anti-broadcast fee protest holds a sign reading "I don't have a TV. I don't watch TV. Lick my ar*e". Photo: DPA
13:59 CEST+02:00
Sieglinde Baumert began a six-month prison sentence in February after refusing to co-operate with the authorities trying to force her to pay the public broadcaster fee.

The 46-year-old from Geisa, Thuringia, found herself confronted with a bailiff and two police officers at her workplace one day.

They demanded that she sign a statement of her assets, she refused, and she was led away.

“With my signature I would confirm the legality of the compulsory fees. I don't want to do that," Baumert told Die Welt.

She was marched off to a police station and then to jail in Chemnitz, Saxony – and a notice that she was being let go from her job followed soon after.

But the broadcaster fee refusenik, who stopped paying in 2013, believes that her cause is just.

She and other opponents of the fees argue that public TV channels ARD and ZDF and radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio are massively overfinanced and have overstepped the bounds of the “basic service” the law calls on them to provide.

“For example, I can't understand football at all,” Baumert said. “When I then read: one minute of the 'Sportschau' [sports news show] costs €40,000, then I ask myself why I should invest a single cent towards that.”

The fee amounted to roughly €8.3 billion in the pockets of the broadcasters in 2014, according to Die Zeit.

Germans and non-Germans alike who reside in the country are required to pay €17.50 per month towards public broadcasting. The fee has long been a source for contention, especially when authorities changed the policy in 2013 to imposing a blanket charge on all households, regardless of whether they have a television or radio.

Previously, collecting agencies had sent inspectors to visit each household to determine the number of televisions or radios in possession, which led some people to avoid paying the fee by not answering the door, or hiding their devices.
 
The fee recently went before a high administrative court with plaintiffs arguing the blanket fee was unjust, but the court sided with the broadcasters.

Baumert must be released after a maximum of six months – and will then be free from the threat of imprisonment for two years if she continues to refuse payment.

It's not known exactly how many of her countrymen and -women could face following in her footsteps.

The authority responsible for collecting the fees told Die Welt that 4.5 million households were behind on payments at the end of 2014, but couldn't go into how many had refused on political grounds.

Until she's out, Baumert will be able to enjoy fee-free television and radio in prison – which doesn't have to pay as it's legally designated a communal accommodation – and to puzzle her fellow inmates.

“They say, if I was only here because of a signature, then I would have been out of here long ago,” she explained. “But they also say 'hats off to you for doing it'.”

SEE ALSO: Broadcaster fees could jump to €19 per month

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