Court Declares Charter for German Public Broadcaster ZDF Unconstitutional

2:47 AM PST 03/25/2014 by Scott Roxborough

German politicians have too much influence over the national public broadcaster, the country's constitutional court ruled Tuesday.

Germany's constitutional court has ruled that the charter governing the operation of public broadcaster ZDF violates the country's constitutional guarantee of press freedom.

German politicians have too much influence over the management and editorial decisions at the network, which is financed by a TV tax on all German viewers, the court said Tuesday. The German states, which are responsible for regulating broadcasting, have until June 30, 2015, to come up with a new, constitutionally compatible charter for ZDF.

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The legal challenge to ZDF's charter was launched following a scandal in 2009 when political meddling allegedly led to the firing of Nikolaus Brender, then editor-in-chief at the network. ZDF employees and channel director Markus Schachter had pushed to renew Brender's contract, but the channel's board, headed by conservative politician Roland Koch, rejected the bid. The move was widely seen as politically motivated, as Koch had been the target of several critical reports and journalistic investigations by the channel.

Under ZDF's current charter, its management board contains representatives from several groups, including members appointed by Jewish, Catholic and Protestant associations in Germany. But the bulk are political appointees named to their posts by German state governments.

Currently, according to the constitutional court, 44 percent of ZDF's management board is made up of politicians or those with close political affiliations to a particular German party. The court said that figure has to drop to a third or lower to conform with Germany's constitution, which guarantees broadcasters freedom from political interference in their editorial decisions.

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