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German Finance Minister calls for cap on TV tax after Queen’s funeral coverage

Germany's Finance Minister Christian Lindner is calling for a freeze on broadcasting fees as well as savings, citing the example of coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral for where savings could have been made.

A remittance slip for German broadcasting fees
A remittance slip for German broadcasting fees. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Every household in Germany has to pay the broadcasting contribution fee – called the Rundfunkbeitrag – regardless of whether there is a radio, television, or computer in the home or not. 

Lindner said he saw large savings potentials among the state broadcasters, referring to the coverage in Germany of the Queen’s funeral on Monday. 

“The fact that (German broadcasters) ARD, ZDF and Phoenix are broadcasting live and in parallel from the Queen’s funeral from London, and are each in London with their own staff, vividly demonstrates that there is considerable potential for savings,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

READ ALSO: Do I have to pay Germany’s Rundfunkbeitrag?

He also called for a freeze on future fee hikes.

As The Local reported, the tax went up in 2021 from €17.50 to the current €18.36. It can be paid by direct debit or by quarterly invoice and is the main source of income for public broadcasters in Germany. 

“Suspending fee increases relieves the burden on people at a time of rapidly rising prices,” said Lindner. 

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Lindner also said it would serve as an incentive for broadcasters to become leaner and focus on their core mission. He added: “I’m sure that cooperation can save large sums of money without having a negative impact on programming.”

A spokeswoman for NDR, the broadcaster responsible for ARD’s reporting, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that the staff costs were comparatively low, but did not give details.

In total, ARD and ZDF sent just under 50 employees to London, including presenters, experts and production staff, the statement said. ZDF said it has been alternating other royal events with ARD by arrangement for several years, but the death of Elizabeth II was an exception. In future, broadcasters will return to the old practice. 

At the weekend, Lindner called on top staff at public broadcasters to cap their salaries, telling Bild am Sonntag that “no director should earn more than the chancellor”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Germany’s TV tax, or (legally) avoid it

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POLITICS

How successful was Germany’s latest ‘Warning Day’?

For Germany's second emergency 'Warning Day' Thursday, all cell phones were set to sound off at 11am, but many stayed silent. Here's the verdict from the country's latest attempt to check its emergency systems.

How successful was Germany's latest 'Warning Day'?

Using so-called cell broadcast technology for the first time, all cell phone users in Germany with a German phone number were to receive a blaring emergency notification for the second Warntag (warning day). This was to test how well they would be alerted to an actual urgent situation, such as flash flooding or a blackout.

The technology sends out alerts regardless of the phone provider or if a person is signed up for them. Even if their phone is switched to silent mode, phone users receive a loud buzzing notification that’s hard to ignore.

READ ALSO: All cell phone users in Germany to be part of disaster ‘warning day’

But on Thursday at 11 am that was not the case for everyone.

According to initial information from the BKK, many Telekom customers in particular did not receive the warnings.

Another warning day is already planned for September of next year, in what will now be an annual test.

Deactivated test warnings in the phones’ system settings could also be a reason for the phones remaining silent. Many older models, such as the iPhone 6 or devices with Android 10, are also unable to use cell broadcast.

But the day was still deemed a “success”, according to BKK President Ralph Tiesler in a statement.

“According to preliminary findings, the nationwide Warning Day 2022 was a success!” said Tiesler. “The interaction of the individual systems has worked and people have become aware of the important topic of warnings. It is still too early for conclusive results. 

“We will now evaluate the feedback and thus be able to further optimize the systems. There’s still room for improvement.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) called the test “an important step” in improving how well people in Germany are protected in an emergency. 

People around Germany can also chime in with how well the test worked – or didn’t – using an official survey: https://warntag-umfrage.de/

Other warnings 

Even the warning apps Katwarn or NINA didn’t show an alert for all users, or only did 20 minutes past the 11am deadline.

Around Germany sirens sounded off, billboards flashed warnings at train stations and, in some communities, emergency vehicles drove through the streets broadcasting the test warning.

But some cities – including larger ones like Berlin – stayed particularly silent as they are not yet connected to a Modular Warning System. 

Berlin was also set to have 400 sirens installed by the end of 2022, although only 20 of them had been installed by August, according to the Tagesspiegel.

The importance of reliable warning systems was highlighted by the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia in July 2021, when people were not informed in time of the impending danger. Afterwards, a broad debate arose on how this could be improved.

Amid an energy crisis and war within Europe, many people are also hypervigilant about what Germany would do in the event of a wide-reaching emergency.

For previous emergencies, local authorities have relied upon sirens, loudspeaker announcements or radio and TV bulletins to warn residents of acute danger or issue evacuation orders.

There are also smartphone apps to keep users up to date on extreme weather in their area.

But Bild newspaper condemned the “failure” to take early action during the mass flooding in 2021.

“The sirens stayed quiet in plenty of places, very few alerts were issued,” it wrote, labelling the deadly flooding that followed “a disaster for civil protection, one of the state’s most essential jobs”.

The first countywide Warning Day took place in September 2020, without cell broadcast notifications, and was widely considered an abject failure. In the aftermath of the test, authorities were criticised for failing to learn from the issues they had experienced in time for the floods in 2021. 

READ ALSO: Germany questions warning system after flood catastrophe

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