The German Federal Constitutional Court, in its judgment of 18 July 2018, has rejected all constitutional complaints (by individuals and companies) against the obligation to contribute to the funding of public service media (PSM) in Germany. The Court did however hold that the obligation for additional payments for secondary homes was unconstitutional.
The "Rundfunkbeitrag" (or "broadcasting contribution") replaced the traditional broadcasting licence fee on 1 January 2013 and is collected for each household or business unit, irrespective of any receiving equipment. Households and businesses must contribute for the benefit of being able to receive PSM programmes and services, regardless of whether or not they choose to use them.
The decision is in line with the Court's earlier decisions on PSM, but goes a step further by highlighting PSM's importance in today's world.
It emphasizes that contribution-funded PSM serves as a counterweight to private commercial broadcastings, as it can develop a programme policy whose rationale differs from solely economic incentives. This allows for a higher degree of content diversity than the market on its own would provide (par. 77). The Court also recognizes the broader impact that PSM may achieve through new technologies and the diversification of offers and means of distribution (par. 78).
The Court clearly states that new means of information distribution via the internet, including social media, do not challenge PSM's relevance (par. 79). On the contrary, the Court refers to trends of media concentration and even monopolization as a result of digitization and network effects. It also notes the dangers stemming from the selection of information, often based on algorithms, targeting users according to their preferences, thus reinforcing one-sided views at the cost of diversity.
The Court asserts that contribution-funded PSM is all the more necessary in the light of developments which blur the distinction between facts and opinions, between content and advertising and which lead to uncertainties regarding the trustworthiness of sources.
In this context, it is up to PSM to support content diversity and provide guidance by offering authentic, carefully checked information, which clearly separates facts from opinions, provides an unbiased depiction of reality and resists sensationalism (par. 80).