Ms. Schlesinger, why are you accepting us for an interview now? I’ve been working on the question for days: When are we going out. We have looked at things for weeks and seen where the allegations are justified and where not. Once we had to correct ourselves because we were dependent on information from third parties.
You mean that the head of the administrative board, Wolf-Dieter Wolf, found out afterwards that he had been in contact with one of the consultants for the digital media house of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg before the contract was awarded?
That was a bit of a shock for us, but we actually had really different information.
What else is new for the public? First of all: The investigation is ongoing, the compliance lawyers are in the house. They visited me for the first time on Thursday and received extensive material from us. After the sighting there will be further discussions. We will also release our employees from their duty of confidentiality. There should also be an anonymous whistleblower system so that further allegations, if there are any, can be checked.
Time is pressing, there are more media reports almost every day. How many employees at the Lutz Abel law firm are involved in the RBB exam? As far as I know, five lawyers with their teams.
Then the results might be available sooner than in four to six weeks?
That was our hope, but it’s also difficult because of the holiday periods. According to information from the law firm, I expect the end of September or the beginning of October.
What does the order cover, what are the allegations? All.
It’s not just the Brandenburg state parliamentarians who want to know whether this also includes the contact Messe Berlin put in place with her husband, Mr. Spörl, and the resulting orders? As far as I know, yes. But the same applies here: We are not the client of this independent review and therefore do not know the exact order. But let’s work through the various allegations.
Let’s start with the construction of the digital media house. We have stopped all activities for the time being, also as a clear signal that a final decision has not yet been made. It should fall in August 2023 – taking all economic factors into account. We’re not making any hara-kiri here, we’ll see next year whether we can afford to build it in view of rising prices. We’re talking about profitability calculations and a loan with a term of 30 years. Necessary renovations and repairs continue, which has a volume of 70 to 80 million euros.
And the 90 to 100 million euros for the media house come on top? No, a large part of it is already in the renovation and repair costs. We have received approval from the Board of Directors to take out a loan of EUR 125 million. We expect this to be the case.
Then why the stop? After the criticism and the accusations, we said: We will continue to build if we can afford it and if it is demonstrably clean and cost-effective. I was influenced by the fact that everyone doubts everything, something new comes up every day – and we assume that this will continue for a while. The previous costs were covered without loans from the current budget. And what is important to me: without using any money earmarked for our program.
Let’s get to the dinners. Who were the guests, what was the agenda? The nine meetings were aimed at anchoring RBB better in the city, so it was really and exclusively about the station’s interests. First, they looked for restaurants or hotels. That was too expensive for us. And because it should be manageable rounds anyway, I offered our dining table and my personal space. The guests, eleven at most, were multipliers of this city and the country. I won’t name names. I wrote an application with guest lists for the meals. Everything was in our digital files, including which guest dropped out or came with an attachment.
Would you do it like that again?Of course, I’ve been wondering if that was a good idea. I have acted to the best of my knowledge and belief. I understand the questions, but I still think it’s important for the public service system to have background talks.
What other things are there that you would handle differently today? I probably should have talked to the RBB about the assignment from Messe Berlin to my husband, even if the compliance regulation doesn’t stipulate that. But nothing was done secretly, my husband has been giving advice for years and he writes books. The amount of 41,000 euros that he received for a consultation has been in a trust account for a few days. Because my husband also says: It has to be clean.
At a staff meeting, you complained in harsh terms that information had come from the RBB. They also announced press law steps. The fact that a former reporter and presenter of “Panorama” was acting in this way struck the employees. Would you still do it that way? I have addressed two points: the first priority must be to fully clarify the allegations and I will do my utmost to push this forward. Unfortunately, this statement did not get through, perhaps it was not clear enough.
What annoyed me: we have a compliance officer, an audit department and a legal department, if you want to change something for the benefit of RBB, you can turn to them. I found it remarkable that you go out and then to the Springer press.
With the allegations, it has also become known that your salary has been increased by 16 percent to 303,000 euros. Is that only valid for the time of the ARD chairmanship? For me, the money was never the motivation to work in the public service system. The justification also related to the time of the ARD chairmanship, but also to the ten-year period due to my second term in office and the comparability with other ARD houses. But things have changed and appear in a different light. I offered the current Chair of the Board of Directors, Dorette König, that we discuss my salary again in the committee. I want that to be clean too. The variable compensation for managers should also be discussed in this context.
What do you mean by that? Together with Kienbaum, we have developed a complex system for calculating performance-related remuneration components for top management and the executive board, which is essentially based on the achievement of agreed targets. I would like to discuss with the Governing Body whether we should continue or adapt it.
There are companies that are not doing so well at the moment, resulting in savings and cuts. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea, or still is, if the director at RBB set a good example? I offered the board of directors to talk about my contract again. Today’s valid version came about a year and a half ago. Okay from the point of view at the time, it’s now a moral question.
And moral questions are always very important. Perhaps things look different today than they did back then, yes.
Maybe? That’s up to the board of directors. I don’t set my salary myself. We’ll talk about it, no question. We can open the contract again. That is my wish and suggestion, but I will not give the Board of Directors any instructions.
The chairman of the RBB board of directors, Wolf-Dieter Wolf, who was also confronted with allegations, is currently resting his office. Are you considering doing this until the end of the full investigation? I’ve worked in the public service system for decades, and I’m a deeply committed believer in it. I will continue to be at the disposal of this system with all my strength.
RBB has also announced that it will take action against Business Insider and other media reporting on the allegations, with the support of media lawyer Christian Schertz. Who should expect counter-notifications, requests for revocation or injunctive relief? It is being worked on, we are in the middle of the process.
You are, Ms. Schlesinger, in the fire every day, “Bild”, “B.Z”, to name just a few of the media that are always on the gas. What does that do to you? At the staff meeting I said: We will answer all questions straight and very precisely and after the clarification we will discuss further steps. That is exactly my mission: protect the RBB, the ARD, the public service broadcaster. I get a lot of support from my management, which I think is extremely important. It would also be wrong to give the impression that the station’s employees would turn against me in toto. I also get the other emails, SMS and Whatsapp messages: Just hang in there. That keeps me alive. My inner compass works.
Sounds like a fight you’ve picked up and want to get through. It’s a turning point, no question. I have always followed an open door policy. As far as trust is concerned: that’s shaken for me too. I’ll have to live with that, it’s a deeply changing experience for me. That’s why you’re a manager, that you can endure it and keep going.
But where is the point where you’re going to say, that’s enough. Are you looking for another director? I’m not there. We produce here at the RBB, here the employees make so many good programs and in a situation where we come from Corona and are still in war and crisis, there is neither resignation nor giving up.
If I were an RBB employee and looked at my current salary, I would quickly think that it should go up. I can’t say anything about that, that’s a matter for the collective bargaining parties. We’re going to have to do something. I won’t tell you what it will be.
Back to the allegations: It seems like they came out of the blue. How do you explain this sudden change in weather? I don’t really have an explanation for it yet, but of course we are a cheap object. At the same time, I see forces at work that want to harm us.
But you don’t want to boil it down to the simple equation: “Business Insider”, “image”. “B.Z”, i.e. Springer against RBB, ARD and the public system? No, but it now has the character of a campaign. We’ll have to get through this.
Now you are not only RBB director, but also work as ARD chairwoman. Is the current cause also putting this office under pressure? At the moment we have a lot to do with the clarification, but we also have to take care of the pending KEF registrations for the future financing of the stations ARD-wide. At the last meeting of the directors in Weimar, I experienced how we in the ARD are moving closer together.
There is no lack of solidarity from the ARD? Not at all, the opposite is the case.