The Incompetent Whore

“Please, Please, no more of this music.”
French Radio Listener, after French DJ’s dusted off old disco records to satisfy new domestic content laws, 1996

There is a proposal in Germany at the moment to demand some kind of “culture” flat-rate to provide the money for the TV channels that are regulated by public law (“öffentlich-rechtliche Sender”). Instead of only those with a TV (or a radio, or any device that might possibly receive TV or radio, which includes any PC) having to pay for the service, everyone will be forced to pay. No matter whether this person has a TV, or radio, or PC, or a private Internet connection.

Given that I consider these channels as crap (especially the infamous German folk music), do neither watch them nor would I ever watch them, I have strong reservations against this proposal. It’s not only paying for something that I do not use — after all, I’m paying for a lot of things I do not use when I pay my taxes. The problem is on another level — introducing a culture flat-rate would completely remove those responsible for the program from any feedback regarding the quality of the program.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. Feedback is necessary, vital, and should always be included. You need a feedback loop, not always at the beginning but eventually. I do not know how the channels that are regulated by law could become any worse, after all, they demand money if you own a device that is capable of going online. Why I am not sure. After all, they could send out logins for their online services with the bills for the services. Instead they consider having the opportunity of using something as actually using something — and that works neither in IT nor in public media. But receiving a tax without being held responsible even by audience numbers? They could run static and still get their money (which actually might be an improvement).

I hope this proposal does not get through. One of Robert A. Heinlein’s characters (Jubal Hawshaw, a writer)  said:

“I want the praise of the cash customer, given in cash because I’ve reached him — or I don’t want anything. Support for the arts — merde! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!”

I can only agree. If you want the public’s money, either give them something that they want or prove that your service is valuable, even without a paying majority having an advantage of it (investigative journalism comes to mind).

Unfortunately, the channels regulated by public law in Germany have shown neither — and now they want to make us pay for that.

2 Comments

  1. First of all: The “öffentlich-rechtliche Sender” do by no means only show crappish folk music (which I also abhor). What about Arte, which shows great movies, the great documentaries on each of those channels, some great concerts shown on 3Sat, the movie-productions from those channels and the fact that the newscasts on the private channels just plainly suck?

    The fact that the GEZ-fees, which at the moment are only to be paid by those who actually have access to those public channels could serve as a feedback for those channels is just not true. You don’t have to pay for what you actually use, but for what you could theoretically have access to. Given that everyone with a radio or internet has access to those channels, everyone has to pay anyway. Where’s the feedback in that?

    Making everyone pay for it would at least remove one huge problem: Many, many people who watch those programmes don’t pay for it. With more of their money, the public channels could get even better then they already are…

  2. Hmm, your argument is that there are things worth paying for on “öffentlich-rechtliche Sender” (ÖRS) — that’s a difference in aesthetic appreciation, which is individual and there is no arguing that. Personally I find nothing on these channels that I do not find online or in the real life (the quality of a live concert, even one that is not performed by world-renowned musicians beats a recorded concert for me all times, but like I said, personal preference). In this regard we differ but that’s okay.

    I would however strongly disagree that viewing numbers does not serve as feedback at the moment. Currently, you could stop paying the GEZ and thus withdraw your support for the ÖRS. With a flatrate, this is no longer possible, so this feedback mechanism does not work anymore. I think the problem is that many people do not see any value in the ÖRS, and while anyone who had only their customers to survive would seriously rethink the goods this person offers, the ÖRS tries to use taxes. This strikes me as unfair and counterproductive for the quality of the channels.

    Regarding that you have to pay what you could theoretically have access to — I don’t remember paying money to a cinema without watching a movie in it. I strongly agree that I have to pay taxes for things I do not use, there is such a thing as social responsibility and — given that I have a job — I gladly pay taxes to support those who are currently trying to find a job or are in training — and I have received the same and expect the same in return. Then there is infrastructure, defense, etc. But I draw the line when it comes to the ÖRS — for others the line might be somewhere else.

    Regarding the argument that making everyone pay removes the problem that many people do not pay, I would argue that there should never be something as collective punishment. You cannot punish people for something they did not do — not only is it unfair, it also undermiens the respect for and the authority of the law. If my neighbor has a TV and watches ÖRS without paying, don’t come knocking on my door for the money. I also do not think that more money necessarily solves a problem. In my opinion, giving more money to solve a problem is almost always a bad thing. The process is broken and more money will not fix it.

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