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Schlesinger planned the RBB "Digital Palace" for 311 million euros

Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) is burying its mega-project Digital Media House.

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Schlesinger planned the RBB "Digital Palace" for 311 million euros

Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) is burying its mega-project Digital Media House. On Thursday, the board of directors agreed to a request by director Katrin Vernau to immediately stop the new building plans of her predecessor Patricia Schlesinger, who was dismissed in August. The broadcaster has to write off a loss of at least 18 million euros.

The decision itself was no different than was to be expected after the revelations of the past few months. What was surprising, however, was a number that Vernau presented to the supervisory board for the first time: from today's perspective, the prestigious building would have cost 311 million euros. Compared to the 60 million euros initially planned for 2020, this is an increase of 418 percent!

The board of directors, which had accepted the increasingly out of control planning for years without objection, considered "continue as it is", as it says in a statement, "after a thorough assessment of all risks" to be "not justifiable". Chairwoman Dorette König: "The objectives associated with the construction project bear no relation to the significantly increased overall costs."

Director Vernau said: "By stopping the project, we are averting a major burden on RBB in the future." And with a view to the criticism of the "Digital Palace" that has been brewing in the workforce and public for a long time: "We are pulling the emergency brake late, but not too late, and end the project in the interests of the RBB and the contributors."

The late stop of the years of preparatory work will cost the fee payers dearly and tear holes in the future programming budget of the public broadcaster in the capital. According to the broadcaster, of the 32 million euros that have been sunk into the Digital Media House (DMH) so far, only 14 million euros are “sustainable”, i.e. invested in future purposes such as TV studios.

On the other hand, 18 million euros, which were due for planning and consultant fees, among other things, are considered a total loss - this sum could increase significantly, since the termination of existing contracts with service providers for the project still have to be negotiated. The RBB keeps a low profile regarding the estimated amount of such additional costs. A spokesman for WELT: "We are not anticipating the talks with the project partners, not even by speculating about the outcome."

According to WELT information, many employees reacted stunned and horrified on Thursday to the previously unknown number of the new cost calculation for the new media house, which ex-director Schlesinger had pushed together with ex-chairman Wolf-Dieter Wolf at high pressure. Most recently, the rbb under Schlesinger 2022 put a cost estimate of 188 million euros in the room, an amount that was 123 million below the number granted by the RBB financiers just a few months later.

The RBB spokesman on request: "The sum of 311 million euros is due to the fact that, on the one hand, the interest charges have been fully included for the first time and, on the other hand, a risk buffer customary in the industry has been included for the first time." In other words: because the station paid the costs for the calculated seriously for the first time... In this context, director Vernau directed clear criticism at the management in Schlesinger's time: "Cost estimates and critical queries did not trigger any rethinking at the rbb top in the past. The ongoing investigations will show who specifically bears what responsibility.”

In addition to an external law firm commissioned with compliance checks, the Berlin Public Prosecutor's Office is also investigating several suspects on suspicion of breach of trust and taking advantage. The focus: Schlesinger and Wolf, who deny all allegations. The losses from the write-off of the DMH plans can have further effects on the annual plan for 2023, despite a massive savings program already announced by the broadcaster, as CFO Claus Kerkhoff admits.

It is "possible" that RBB "will have to take into account an amount in the low single-digit millions in the financial planning" in the coming year. The spokeswoman for the free representation at RBB, Dagmar Bednarek, to WELT: "The decision to stop the completely oversized construction project is correct and overdue. However, the sum of 18 million that has now become known, which RBB has to pay in lavish fees for planning companies and consultants without even a stone being built, is another slap in the face of the freelancers.” The broadcaster has an alignment of employee fees to the significantly higher salaries of the permanent employees over the years with reference to "rejected to allegedly empty coffers". Director Katrin Vernau, who has been working since September, promises: "We will not continue the irresponsible use of rbb's financial resources."

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