Reform or Repair A distress call from the engine rooms of public broadcasters

By Peter Welchering | Public broadcasting is under fire. That is not new. Too closely aligned with governments, political bias towards one party or another, unbalanced programming, red tape and high-handed executives, some of them remarkably self-serving – I have been hearing these points of criticism ever since I produced my first piece for West German public broadcaster WDR 40 years ago.1 But in the past, at least until the Schlesinger affair, there was a general truth, encapsulated in a quote by Johannes Ludwig, speaking in the voice of a public broadcasting executive in February 2009: »It’s like water off a duck’s back.« And: »Public broadcasters think they can get away with it.« (Ludwig 2009:6) The Schlesinger case, however, has rattled the smugness of public broadcasting bigwigs. Now at least, they could no longer refuse to engage in a reform debate, as they had before. One group, however, has hardly been heard at all in this debate so far: freelancers, with or without contracts.