The founding of the Berlin-Brandenburg Media Authority in 1992 was marked by the television tower. It is in the middle of Berlin and in the middle of Brandenburg and was the most important infrastructure for the distribution of radio and television. East and West had concentrated the then scarce and valuable frequencies in Berlin. The states of Berlin and Brandenburg, as their heirs, opted for a joint solution and commissioned the newly founded mabb to be the first joint institution to reorganize the frequencies in the region independently of the state. Seats on the television cable were also scarce, only those selected could be seen.
30 years later, digitization has overcome scarcity, the Internet is increasingly replacing the classic broadcast transmission paths, via fiber optics and via mobile Internet, the latter via previous broadcast frequencies. Media content can be used at any time and any place, the earlier influence of tight programs and their predetermined program planning has eroded, classic media are only part of public communication. The distribution channels are no longer organized in the (not particularly efficient) public monopoly, but belong to private investors who pursue their own goals.
The previous broadcasting license, which was linked to the allocation of scarce and then particularly influential capacities, has lost its meaning. There is no longer any objective reason why audiovisual media need a license instead of relying on royalty-free media, as has long been the case with the press and the Internet. VHF is still an exception, but in perspective the television tower will essentially be a monument and vantage point.
It is still underestimated how far-reaching the effects of the changes of the past 30 years have been and which are still to come.
One of the two pillars of our broadcasting regime, for public and private broadcasting, is based on the scarcity of transmission options. It starts with the Federal Constitutional Court, which was only able to make its specifications for a positive order and the framework conditions for private broadcasting because it linked the allocation of scarce transmission paths exclusive to broadcasting to them. The federal states and the media institutions were able to shape the television and radio landscape, including their locations. Today, these opportunities to exert influence no longer exist. There have never been corresponding specifications and possibilities for the Internet.
The justification that public service broadcasting must survive and develop because advertising-financed private broadcasting has deficits is still relevant. But the market failure caused by the financing models of the Internet platforms is much greater. By appropriately directing attention to high-reach content, they exacerbate the dividing lines in society.
Public law approaches can only compensate for this to a very limited extent. The regulators do not have the same national influence over the global, privately organized Internet as they used to have over private broadcasting.
The second pillar of the media system, which is still viable today, is public funding, currently through the broadcasting fee. It is and remains the basis of public service broadcasting, including that of media institutions. There is still a public interest in promoting content that cannot be financed on the market but serves to form public opinion. The deficits, particularly in the regional and local areas, are increasing.
It is not a matter of course that this funding only benefits established institutions, in reliance on their internal willingness to reform. The privilege compared to private media companies of not suffering any financial losses as a result of digitization also has a price. The media is no exception to the fact that innovation and creative destruction are related. If a new solution had to be found today to protect public interests in media diversity on the Internet, who would think of the traditional structures of the analogue age?
Proposals to allocate at least part of the license fee outside of the institutional structure have so far not been heard. Fundamental reforms by the federal states are not to be expected, it remains a fundamental evil of the media order that it can only be further developed through unanimous decisions. This is likely to result in the influence of public service broadcasting and the acceptance of the license fee continuing to decline. You can’t achieve everything with money.
One hope is pinned on the federal institution that has shaped our media system in the past and has shown in other areas that it demands new approaches: the Federal Constitutional Court. Shouldn’t the broadcasting fee to be paid by everyone be a media fee, with approaches that serve the growing part of the population that does not use the providers of traditional broadcasting media? Let’s hope for a new fundamental verdict.
Federalism had its heyday when individual solutions could still be developed in the federal states, as in Berlin and Brandenburg with the radio landscape and with the shutdown of analogue television. mabb continues to use this scope today in its wide range of funding measures, which go far beyond those of the founding days. Berlin and Brandenburg offer special opportunities for this.
In contrast to public service broadcasting and the funding tasks of the media authorities, the regulation of the Internet has no connection to the responsibility of the federal states for culture. Google and Facebook do not offer regionally different challenges, on the other hand the media are only part of broader issues such as non-discrimination, the transparency of algorithms and the limitation of power. From my point of view, this speaks for a more efficient organization at national level, which also carries more weight in Brussels.
Although there are common structures of the media institutions, they are based on part-time activities of the directors and the committee members. This limits their influence over the cartel authorities in Bonn and Brussels, which are full-time and centrally organized. Unfortunately, the chances of a change on your own are just as slim as with public service broadcasting.
That’s why mabb has to solve current questions in the existing structures – and also many more: The region is a focal point for questions about the limits of the Internet. The previous control of a manageable number of private organizers, from the protection of minors and advertising restrictions to media concentration, was not so complex. Some approaches, such as the specification of broadcasting times to protect young people, seem rather naïve today. Compliance with journalistic principles has never led to major oversight procedures. It’s different today with the wide range of content on the Internet, it doesn’t just remain with individual problem cases as it used to be in the open channel. mabb is involved in the search for solutions that also have to respect the limits of public control.
As an independent institution committed to public service in a particularly creative region, mabb can contribute in a special way to the discussion about our future communication order.