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Compulsory broadcaster fee is legal, Germany's highest court rules

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Compulsory broadcaster fee is legal, Germany's highest court rules
Photo: DPA
10:50 CEST+02:00
Germany’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that the compulsory broadcaster fee which every household has to pay is legal, after critics had disputed the payment's constitutionality.

After two day's of deliberation, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the broadcast fee, which finances public broadcasters ZDF, ARD and Deutschlandradio, is in line with the constitution.

Vice-president of the court Ferdinand Kirchhof said that it was crucial that Germany offers public broadcasting.

“The nationwide broadcasting of programmes gives everyone in Germany the realistic chance to take advantage of this service,” Kirchhof said, adding that it was irrelevant whether someone decided to make use of public broadcasting or not.

The court however objected to the fact that people who own two homes have to pay the fee twice. It gave the government until mid-2020 to change the law so that second home owners are no longer at a disadvantage.

Since 2013, every German household has had to pay a flat monthly fee to finance public broadcasting for television and radio. The fee currently stands at €17.50.

Private individuals and businesses had brought cases against the broadcaster fee on a number of grounds.

Private plaintiffs claimed the fee contradicted the constitutional clause on equality due to the fact that it does not differentiate between a single-person household and a multi-person household. A further complaint was that one had to pay the fee for second homes, despite the fact that it is impossible to watch television in two places at the same time.

Other private plaintiffs complained that the public broadcasters do not live up to their obligation to remain neutral.

Car hire firm Sixt was also a plaintiff during the case due to what it described as the excessive contributions it had to pay. The car company has to pay a monthly fee of €5.83 for each of the roughly €50,000 cars that it owns.

The public broadcasters have refuted the accusations laid against them. ZDF boss Peter Frey said in January that his organization is legally obliged to report on the positives and negatives in any news item. They also point to studies which have found that 99 percent of people over the age of 14 live in a household that contains at least on device capable or receiving public television or radio.

Public broadcasting fees are the most important source of revenue for ARD, ZDF and Deustchlandradio, providing an annual sum of €8 billion.

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