The scandal has shaken public broadcasting in Germany

International 18 August, 2022

This has never happened on public television in Germany. On Monday, August 15, Patricia Schlesinger, the manager of the Berlin regional public broadcaster RBB since 2016, was immediately dismissed from her post after an almost unanimous vote of the board of directors. Implicated in several cases uncovered by Business Insider at the end of June, she resigned a few days earlier from her post as director of ARD, an association of nine regional radio stations in the country — one of the three pillars, with the ZDF network and Deutschlandfunk Radio, a German public broadcaster. The scandal will break out at the most inopportune moment, while this system with a complex structure is in full reform.

Patricia Schlesinger is accused of abusing the privileges granted to her on duty without the intervention of supervisory authorities. The press reported that in addition to her salary of more than 300,000 euros a year, the former investigative journalist received abundant «bonuses for goals» provided on not very transparent terms.

She is also accused of hosting private dinners at her home at her employer’s expense, ordering 1.4 million euros worth of work on the floor of her office in Berlin, or using a luxury service sedan equipped with seat massage systems. Her husband, a former journalist, for his part, thanks to his intervention, received consulting assignments for the Berlin Congress Center, a public company co-headed by the chairman of the supervisory board of the regional RBB channel Dieter Wolf, who resigned on August 9. The Berlin prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation.

The case took on such proportions that Friedrich Merz, president of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the first opposition party, publicly condemned the violations of public broadcasting revealed as a result of the scandal. «The Schlesinger case may finally deprive public broadcasting of its legitimacy and recognition by the public», – he warned in a column published on August 13. A serious warning shot for German public channels and radio, which for several years have been criticized for their structures, often considered redundant, too expensive or unsuitable for the current media landscape.

Stations that have to finance their transition to digital, while the traditional audience is shrinking, have been on the defensive for several years. Take a look at the recent debate about the fee increase, which took unprecedented proportions in 2020, when the president of the state of Saxony-Anhalt Rainer Haseloff blocked an increase of 86 centimes per month. Only after the decision of the Constitutional Court, the reform was finally approved.

The fee in Germany is currently 18.36 euros per month per family or 220.32 euros per year (compared to 136 euros in France before its cancellation). In August 2021, a few weeks before taking office as head of ARD, Patricia Schlesinger justified the increase in contribution to public broadcasting, explaining to Der Spiegel magazine: «Saving money is our daily life».