The increase in the licence fee or Rundfunkbeitrag is now likely to rise by 86 cents from €17.50 to €18.36 per month.
Last year all states except the eastern region of Saxony-Anhalt agreed to increase the fee. The amount – which has remained the same since 2009 – can only be changed if all heads of state, and all state parliaments agree.
The increase in fee, which was due to come into place on January 1st 2021, was blocked completely in December 2020 after Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff dropped the bill before the state parliament could vote on it. It had become clear that his CDU party would not support the rise – something that has caused political friction.
Critics – that included CDU politicians and members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) – urged the state to renegotiate its public service broadcasting contract, calling for reforms and savings.
However, the Federal Constitutional Court said Thursday that a single federal state cannot dig its heels in and hold back broadcasters from increasing the fee, saying it “violated the freedom of public broadcasters”.
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The complaint was brought to court by the public broadcasters ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio.
“In a decision published today, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that Saxony-Anhalt, by failing to give its consent to the First Media Amendment Treaty, violated the freedom of broadcasting of the public broadcasters under Article 5 (1) sentence 2 of the Basic Law,” the court said in a statement.
“An omission of public authority can be the subject of a constitutional complaint,” the judges in Karlsruhe added.
The court added that the importance of contribution-financed public broadcasting is growing at a time of “fake news”.
The broadcasters should present reality in an undistorted way through “authentic, carefully researched information that keeps facts and opinions apart”, judges said.
However, the ruling is not a complete success for public broadcasters: the judges did not order a retroactive increase in the broadcasting contribution as of January 1st, 2021 meaning that residents in Germany will not face back payments.
The court points out that the “assessment of the effects of the omitted contribution adjustment on the broadcasters can take place in the procedure agreed upon in the interstate treaty”.
Broadcasters have welcomed the decision.
ARD chairman Tom Buhrow said: “The decision puts us in a position to continue to make the best possible programming for people in the coming years.”
“The clear decision of the judges in Karlsruhe confirms and strengthens the independence of public broadcasting,” ZDF Director-General Thomas Bellut said.
The implementation of the fee increase will now be put into place.
What is the Rundfunkbeitrag?
Everyone living in Germany is required to contribute to the German TV tax. The responsible authorities get hold of your data as soon as you complete your registration (Anmeldung), so it’s almost impossible to dodge.
After you register in Germany, you receive a letter informing you about your obligations under the German TV and radio tax.
The tax requires every household to pay €17.50 per month towards the Beitragsservice.
The ‘per household’ element is important to remember, as you pay per ‘Wohnung’ rather than per resident or even per television. So even though the letter is addressed to you, talk to your housemates (if you have them) because it is a team effort.
If you get one of these letters but another resident of the apartment or house already pays the amount, you can write back and let them know.
This is great for people in large shared houses but it can be a hefty fee for people who live alone.
And unfortunately there are no discounts for single-person households in Germany unlike in some other countries – like the UK – which offers a discount on the TV licence fee for those who live by themselves.
Licence or broadcasting fee – (der) Rundfunkbeitrag
Increase (die) Erhöhung
Decision/resolution – (der) Beschluss
Constitutional complaint – (die) Verfassungsbeschwerde
Financing gap/shortfalls – (die) Finanzlücke
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