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"One cannot expect that we alone will ensure a leaner ARD"

The evening before there was something to celebrate for ARD and ZDF.

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"One cannot expect that we alone will ensure a leaner ARD"

The evening before there was something to celebrate for ARD and ZDF. That's rare these days. The German Television Prize had been awarded in Cologne, and a number of prizes could be applauded, so that WDR director Tom Buhrow also stayed until just before midnight. Shortly before eleven o'clock the next morning, Buhrow stood punctually in front of the entrance to the small broadcasting room in the WDR broadcasting center and made a balanced impression.

Because the directors of ARD had also met the day before, and now they were answering questions from the press. Such meetings take place regularly, but it would be wrong to speak of a routine meeting against the background of the revelations about massive misconduct at the state broadcasters in Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) and Hamburg (NDR). Because the interest in the question of how ARD is going to continue is high - in the public and the staff of the ARD stations alike.

Three directors sat down at three tables in the broadcasting room to report on the results of their conference. In addition to Buhrow, who is the current ARD chairman, there were Yvette Gerner from Radio Bremen and Kai Gniffke, who will take over the ARD chairmanship as director of SWR next year. Also present was Christine Strobl, the program director of the ARD, who played a decisive role in the design of the program in the first and its digitization. Behind the ARD bosses, a lettering was reminiscent of the slogan that ARD has been calling out to its viewers for some time: "We are yours".

A disappointment right at the beginning was that the new interim director of the RBB, Katrin Vernau, could not be connected via video as originally announced. The previous administrative director of the WDR has her first working day today, it is now said, and a lot of appointments.

Perhaps they wanted to demonstrate that the time for talking about the crisis is over and that action must now be taken, but perhaps it would have been wiser to stop by and answer a few questions. Before she took office, Vernau stated that she would “see what reforms and strategies were launched”.

That seems natural and irritating at the same time, at least for those who only know the ARD superficially and understand it as a unit, which of course it is in principle – and again not. Because shouldn't the RBB strategy have been known for a long time?

Tom Buhrow stated relatively quickly and also when asked that the directors had not dealt so intensively with the internal investigations in the two state broadcasting corporations, the results of which would have to be available first. "We have a good feeling about the clarification," said Buhrow somewhat succinctly. But what has to do with the state of the network of broadcasters, where you can't rule as chairman of the ARD, after all you're not a group.

Of course, the impression was given that it could occasionally be helpful if the ARD were not a group in which nine subsidiaries could act relatively autonomously, especially not in one of the most serious crises of the public-law institution. After all: Although the “epicenter” of this crisis is in Berlin, according to Buhrow (demarcation!), the ARD must also draw conclusions (openness!).

This includes that the compliance rules of the nine institutions are to be standardized. By the end of November, the in-house lawyers want to develop a uniform set of rules, the model is the MDR, where you have had experience with scandals, including the children's channel. Why are there no uniform regulations for correct corporate management? Exactly, that is due to the decentralized structure.

In between, it was about very different topics - about digitization, which you have to push, about the program that you would actually much rather talk about, about mutual praise, for example when SWR boss Gniffke paid respect to WDR boss Buhrow, like the WDR "went in there". What was meant was the broadcaster's crisis management – ​​under Buhrow's leadership, ARD had withdrawn its trust from the RBB leadership that had been in office until then. In the hour and a half, there was more than just a hint of the agenda in the round of talks.

What Buhrow then immediately denied: The ARD did not want to go back to business as usual. Now it's about "prioritization and honesty". Different things are coming together now, the current crisis because of the scandals and the smoldering crisis because of the question of how much the ARD costs the contributors and what they are actually supposed to do. The second debate is now being "flushed eruptively upwards". And now the democratic society can say “what it wants or no longer wants”.

It goes without saying that there are also working groups, one of which is the “Rearrangement” working group, which is supposed to work out which linear offers the ARD can also omit in order to strengthen the digital offers. And the AG Digitale/Federal ARD, which wants to help prevent duplicate structures in the expansion of digital offerings, for example. "More modern, more agile, smarter" you want to be, said Yvette Gerner, the director of Radio Bremen. However, as Tom Buhrow pointed out, it should not be forgotten that budgets are becoming ever tighter.

Isn't it very difficult to convey the reference to tight budgets, in view of the growing contribution volume of 8.4 billion euros for public broadcasting? Of course, Buhrow then said, a "big social debate" was necessary to agree on the order and structure of the institutions: "We need a generational contract, not an agreement that only lasts a few weeks."

But, that too is clear: "You can't expect us to ensure a leaner ARD on our own." It's the turn of politics. Buhrow himself then revealed that he transfers a "high five-digit amount" to WDR every year, which he receives for income from supervisory board positions at ARD subsidiaries. His predecessors always kept the money.

And what does Kai Gniffke, the upcoming ARD chairman, want? Shortly before the meeting, he said in an interview that he could imagine a joint program for the third parties, in which regional windows would then be opened. An interesting proposal for ARD conditions, although it is of course completely unclear whether everyone will participate.

He wanted to "give impetus," said Gniffke, towards more division of labor. In terms of content, however, it is about the major social issues, the coming energy crisis, climate change, the lack of staff. One could perhaps hear a subliminal message in his remarks, namely the thought that there could be more important problems than the ARD crisis.

However, it should be clear to all directors that their draft on the important role of ARD in society depends on how clean and transparent the investigation of the scandals is.

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