The RBB gives up its chairmanship within the ARD. Jens Riewa, the chief spokesman for the “Tagesschau”, announced this decision in the 8 p.m. edition of the ARD news program.
RBB director Patricia Schlesinger justified the step by saying that the station’s management and she now saw her main task as helping to clarify the allegations. One of the allegations made in the “Tagesschau” was the awarding of consultancy contracts. There are many more.
The directors of the ARD welcomed the decision, which had already become apparent during the day. The pressure on Schlesinger had increased greatly after the repeated allegations. With the waiver of the ARD chairmanship, she is now forestalling her colleagues and giving herself some breathing room for the tasks in the RBB.
The WDR will take over the ongoing official business by the end of the year. WDR director Tom Buhrow had managed ARD before Schlesinger. At the upcoming ARD general meeting in Bremen in September, a new chair can now be appointed, who could then take office on January 1, 2023. Südwestrundfunk has declared its willingness to take on this task. The rotation to SWR director Kai Gniffke should not take place until a year later.
“We will ensure a smooth transition with all the departments involved in ARD,” said Patricia Schlesinger in a press release published a little later on Thursday evening. “The public discussion about the decisions and processes in the RBB that fall within my area of responsibility now also affects the interests of the ARD. The management of the RBB and I now see our main task in helping to clarify these allegations and to focus our attention on the RBB. That is why we are now handing over the chairmanship within the ARD and thank the other broadcasters for their willingness to make this step possible for us.”
When Patricia Schlesinger was elected director of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg in April 2016, great hopes were placed in the investigative journalist and moderator (“Panorama”). Schlesinger also came with ambitious plans and didn’t waste any time in turning the station inside out. In the past few weeks, however, the reform broadcaster boss has become an artistic director in self-defense mode.
The allegations, which were essentially raised by the Springer publication “Business Insider” and substantiated with internal documents from the RBB, concern compliance violations, nepotism and wasteful use of the fees payers’ contributions, including the construction of the new one digital media house of the RBB. In particular, the allegation of wasted contributions led to great concern within the ARD and made Schlesinger’s chair wobble.
There was talk of an early resignation, as the specialist publication “Horizont” reported. At first it looked as if it could take a few more days before the new directors and directors of the ARD broadcasters would find an appointment for a joint meeting. But then things happened very quickly, in the afternoon the station managers met in a switching conference. Actually, the extension of the ARD presidency should not have been discussed until September.
Officially, the Tagesspiegel had previously been informed in unison when asked all ARD stations about how the allegations against the director of the RBB were assessed: “We trust in the investigation process.” But this trust was in poor shape, as can be seen from the broadcasters could be heard. No director had publicly stood in front of the ARD chairwoman.
Schlesinger’s counterparts faced a major problem. Schlesinger’s confirmation for a second term as ARD chairman was scheduled for September, but the result of the external review initiated by the RBB by the Lutz Abel law firm would not be available by then.
But without this certificate, re-election was almost impossible, especially since new allegations keep coming up. The ARD needs strong leadership right now. New state media treaties are being negotiated in the state parliaments. In addition, the new applications must be submitted to the Commission for determining the financial requirements of the public broadcasters. A discussion about “digital palaces” and “luxury company cars” is pure poison.
In the end it came out as discussed before within the broadcasting network. Schlesinger resigns, Buhrow takes over on an interim basis. He has the experience that the apparatus at WDR can be quickly reactivated. And Kai Gniffke from SWR takes over responsibility as ARD boss a year earlier. And Patricia Schlesinger has her back free to tackle the problems in Berlin and Brandenburg. After all, there is enough of that.
Dagmar Reim, founding director of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, had merged SFB and ORB into a joint two-country institution during her tenure, but neglected the program. Patricia Schlesinger should renew the RBB. “People should not only know the RBB, they have to appreciate it,” she told the Tagesspiegel. Schlesinger promised the Berliners and Brandenburgers more relevance and an RBB that is both a real capital broadcaster and also rooted in the region. The program, especially the RBB television, was completely rebuilt.
“Don’t get bored” was the new RBB motto. At the same time, the director made sure that the RBB was also more visible on the ARD: whether it was the capital city office, “Morgenmagazin” or “Mittagsmagazin” – the RBB is involved or even in charge. Especially the one from the previous evening program “Zuhause in Berlin und Brandenburg”, which symbolically bore both federal states in its name, not only caused trouble among the RBB employees, but the people of Brandenburg in particular felt neglected once again.
Despite all the brisk advertising campaigns, program efforts and reforms – also from the hands of the program director Jan Schulte-Kellinghaus, brought by Schlesinger from the NDR, the RBB television has a problem with the quotas. With a current market share of 5.4 percent, it brings up the rear among the third programs. Actually, there should be a six before the comma, at least.
If it weren’t for the “rbb24 Abendschau” and “Brandenburg aktuell”, the two-country broadcaster’s ratings provider for decades, the RBB would be doing even worse in terms of ratings. For comparison: “Abendschau” saw 210,000 viewers (32.2 percent market share) on Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m., after “Tagesschau” the RBB format “Doc Fischer” landed at 70,000 (4.5 percent). Favorite shows look different.
This also applies to the new early-evening formats launched in January with a focus on information, service and talk – which will be replaced during the summer break by ARD repeats of “Brisant”, among other things. Apparently, the broadcaster is still not succeeding in successfully depicting the urbanity and radiance of the capital in the program and in doing so also picking up a younger audience.
Unusual, cheeky-fresh formats like “Chez Krömer” can struggle so hard. The radio looks better. With Antenne Brandenburg, the RBB has the market leader in its program, Radio Eins continues to collect image points “only for adults”. But these radio channels were doing that long before the Schlesinger era.
The waiver of the second term as ARD boss does not necessarily mean the end of Schlesinger’s directorship in Berlin and Brandenburg. She can fully take care of the further clarification in the RBB. From a legal point of view, she and the head of the RBB board of directors, Wolf-Dieter Wolf – he is currently on hiatus – are initially not threatened by anything. The responsible Berlin public prosecutor’s office has rejected a complaint by the AfD and cannot see any initial suspicion that would justify investigations.
Patricia Schlesinger hired media lawyer Christian Schertz to examine the allegations under press law. But even weeks later, no revocations or counter-notifications are known.
First, the state chancellery in Potsdam, as the responsible media supervisor for the RBB, reacted to the allegations and asked those responsible at the station to comment. In parts, Schlesinger and Sender have taken a position on this. The main committee of the Brandenburg state parliament responsible for media issues also had a need to speak, which Schlesinger, Wolf and Friederike von Kirchbach, as chairmen of the Broadcasting Council – against whom there are no allegations – asked to speak in the special session.
With reference to the compliance check, however, they did not accept the invitation and thus aroused the displeasure of Brandenburg politicians from all parties. After the media politicians in the Berlin House of Representatives initially reacted extremely cautiously to the events, things are now also moving in the federal capital. Alexander King, media policy spokesman for the left, would like to put the RBB on the agenda for the next meeting in September.
For him, it is not only about the legal, but also about the political and ultimately also about the moral dimension. The AfD, which put the topic on the committee agenda in Brandenburg, has now also done so in Berlin. But this party is not just about the person Patricia Schlesinger, but about the entire public service broadcaster in its current form.