Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio

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Logo of the organization

The Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio (fee collection service of ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio)(commonly referred to simply as Beitragsservice), is a joint organization of Germany's public broadcasting institutions ZDF, Deutschlandradio and the ARD state broadcasting institutions that is located in Cologne. The Beitragsservice is responsible for collecting license fees. Mandatory license fees for every household are set in the Rundfunkfinanzierungsstaatsvertrag (state treaty on the financing of broadcasting). Since 2013, these fees must be paid by every household in Germany, regardless of whether the household actually has the capability to receive the broadcasts themselves. Until 2013, it was known as GEZ, short for Gebühreneinzugszentrale der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland).

Organization[edit]

The Beitragsservice is an association of administrations subject to public law and has no legal capacity. It operates as a joint data center of the ARD state broadcasting institutions, the ZDF and Deutschlandradio, and administers the collection of license fees. It was created by an administrative agreement.

The Beitragsservice is therefore not a legal entity of its own, but a part of the public broadcasting institutions. However, the Beitragsservice is a public authority in the material sense according to the Administrative Procedures Act Of The Federal Republic Of Germany (VwVfG), because it conducts public administration tasks. It conducts these tasks on behalf of the state broadcasting institutions.

Tasks[edit]

Since January 1, 1976, the Beitragsservice (known as GEZ until 2013) has collected Rundfunkgebühren (broadcast license fees) as set in the Rundfunkfinanzierungsstaatsvertrag (state treaty on the financing of broadcasting). This had previously been the responsibility of Deutsche Bundespost (the German federal post office). The GEZ's tasks in detail were:

  • Collection of license fees (obtaining license fees in arrears, handling of payments)
  • Remission of license fees
  • Planning of license fees
  • Customer care

On December 31, 1976, 18.5 million TV sets and 20.4 million radios were registered in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Planning of license fees[edit]

The Beitragsservice has overall control over the planning of license fee revenues from the supply of public-legal broadcasting in the Federal Republic of Germany. Based on preliminary work by the Beitragsservice, license fees are planned for a period of five years in advance or the current fee period by the Arbeitsgruppe Gebührenplanung (license fee planning work group), which is a subgroup of the Finanzkommission der Rundfunkanstalten (financial commission of broadcasting institutions). The managing director of the Beitragsservice is the chairperson of the Arbeitsgruppe Gebührenplanung.

Charging of license fees[edit]

The licences fees for Radio, TV and the New Media amounted to €17,98 per month, from 1 January 2009 on. For radio reception alone, the monthly fee was €5.76.

On June 9, 2010, state governors decided that Heidelberg University Professor Paul Kirchhof's model of a flat-rate household license fee would be introduced in 2013. The model set out the collection of license fees as a lump sum per household, regardless of the number of broadcast reception devices present, or even, if any devices are present at all. This required that the 'GEZ' be reorganised, and that broadcast license fee commissioners are no longer be employed by state broadcasting institutions. The monthly fee per household is now €17.98, the amount previously payable for television reception. Fee payers who previously only registered a radio or a "novel broadcast reception device" but no TV set, will see their license fee increase by 212% (from €5.76 to €17.98), however households which previously had to pay multiple license fees will have to pay less.

Beginning on 1 January 2013 on, people with disabilities are no longer exempt from paying license fees but will have to pay one third of the household flat-rate of €17.98. Under the previous regulations, the deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who were legally deaf had been exempt. However, they started to contribute in 2013 in spite of relatively few hours of TV programming with closed-captioning. Sign Dialog, the working group of German Association of the Deaf, has nominated that they are more willing to pay the full rate once the milestone of 100% closed-captioning programming has been reached.

License fee revenues and administrative costs[edit]

In 2010, the GEZ collected €7,65 billion in license fees for state broadcasting institutions. Collection costs amounted to €160,5 million, which is about 2.13% of total revenue or €3.83 per participant. Additional costs are generated in the state broadcasting institutions by the so-called Beauftragtendienste (commissioner services), those expenditures for license fee collection amounted to €184.97 million in 2007, according to the ARD 2008 yearbook.

According to its 2010 annual report, the GEZ employed 1148 people.

Elicitation and storage of data[edit]

The state broadcasting institutions, and the GEZ respectively, are allowed to store and administer all the fee payer data which is necessary to perform their tasks. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany counts 39 million private households, while the GEZ in 2004 held 41.2 million data sets of fee payers. These include 2.2 million data sets of fee payers who de-registered ownership of devices which can receive radio/television. GEZ had one of the most comprehensive databases on the population of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Another source of data are resident registration offices. They forwarded new registrations and changes of registration to the GEZ. In 2002, German registration authorities transferred over 12 million data sets to the GEZ.

To identify non-payers, the GEZ compareed their database with data sets purchased from commercial address vendors. This is allowed under the terms of Rundfunkstaatsvertrag (state treaty on broadcasting).

Investigation and Observation[edit]

The GEZ did not have its own field service. It acquired new participants exclusively through voluntary registration of the users, comparison of addresses, writing notices and gathering data from other sources.

If there was no reply to the first written notice, the following two letters were drafted in an increasingly harsh tone, often evoking connotations of official measures being taken shortly afterwards. Because these letters are potentially received by all residents of the address, even people who have no legal obligation to give information may be prompted to do so.

In addition to this, the GEZ - to supplement data sets gathered from the resident registration offices - worked with the broadcast license fee commissioners of the state broadcasting institutions to gather new data. These commissioners were often self-employed field service workers working on commission, or employees working for the state broadcasting institutions. They have no official powers, and must identify themselves with their id card issued by the state broadcasting agency.

Bread and Circuses[edit]

The acceptance of the concept by the German inhabitants is not unanimous. According to the latest yearly report (2015) [1] the amount of payment notifications (Mahnmaßnahmen) raised to 20,21 Million and the number of enforcement acts (Vollstreckungsersuche) to 890'212. With an estimated percentage of 3,41% non paying households.[2]

The reason for that number is unclear, but one reason might be that the biggest cut of the budget is invested on football broadcasting rights [1] which does not directly mirror the stated objectives of the organism e.g. independent information service, national culture contents. [2]

One could argue (as Noam Chomsky did in Manufacturing Consent) that this outset is a clear implementation of a 2000 year old democracy instrument of population control designated Bread and circuses.

Resistance[edit]

There are cases of some regional courts of law deciding against the legality of the foreclosures (Zwangsvollstreckung - forced seizure of property, e.g. directly from bank account registered with the tax office or from the pay check directly with the employing entity) to cover for the amount of due contribution (not tax), on the ground of the seizing organism being private and not part of the State. [3]

Also there was a case of a citizen being jailed for not having property that could be seized. She was later release on the account of the charges being dropped by the offended organism after all the noise on the both public and private media. [4]

Although all informative and sometimes threatening mail is written in German, there are many support groups around the country and lots of content in English [5]. Those may help people that don't understand German (and therefor don't consume media contents in German) on how to deal with the situation.

One example is how to set a Pfändungsschutzkonto [6] to avoid the complete seizure of money from a bank account.

Another way, that was impossible in the past but now feasible due to the implementation of the mandatory use of IBAN for bank transfers, is to not have a German account at all, but a foreign eurozone one. Somehow, and this is a supposition, if those are not registered on German statutory databases (e.g. risk management, tax office) the former GEZ has no way off triggering the seizure.

Nonetheless, the legal possibility of seizure of property of income directly with the employer holds.

References[edit]