Big questions are again being asked about the future of Germany’s public broadcasters after Patricia Schlesinger, director of Berlin’s public broadcaster RBB, resigned over mismanagement charges.
Until recently, she was both the director of the regional public broadcaster RBB (Radio Berlin Brandenburg) and held the rotating chair of the ARD, Germany’s vast and powerful nationwide network of nine regional broadcasters and Deutsche Welle.
The scandal has triggered a nationwide debate and fresh calls for changes to public broadcasting in Germany, which is financed mainly by a mandatory monthly broadcasting license fee to the tune of €18.36 (ca. $19) to be paid by each household.
Schlesinger stepped down after accusations that included a questionable use of funds, but also the controversial allocation of consultancy contracts.
The allegations go back a number of weeks to when the German-language news portal Business Insider wrote about “inconsistencies” in the business dealings of Schlesinger and her husband, Gerhard Spörl.
It was a reference to a consultancy contract worth €100,000 ($103,000) for services rendered by Spörl to Messe Berlin — the German capital’s trade fair organizers — and the fact that the CEO of the trade fair, Wolf-Dieter Wolf, was also head of the board of directors at Schlesinger’s broadcaster, RBB. What’s more, according to Business Insider, it was Wolf who gave his personal support so that Spörl would get the controversial contract.
In the subsequent weeks, these initial revelations were followed by others. To begin with, it was Business Insider leading the probe. But they were soon joined by other media outlets, and the probe began to focus on irregularities in construction projects involving the broadcaster.
It emerged that at the financially-strapped RBB Schlesinger had been awarded 16% on top of a salary that totaled €303,000, and a further bonus of €20,000. She also attracted attention by using the services of chauffeurs for an expensive rented company car and with extravagant dinners at her private apartment. When champagne was served, the tab was allegedly paid by her employers.
Earlier this month, the 61-year-old Schlesinger gave up her post as ARD director — a unprecedented move in the more than 70-year history of the broadcasting association. Three days later, she also stepped down as the head of RBB. And just two more days passed before it became clear that state prosecutors were looking into possible charges of embezzlement and taking personal advantage against her, her husband and Wolf, who has responded by stepping down from his position as head of the RBB board.
PHOTO: Director of the regional ARD television RBB (Radio Berlin Brandenburg) Patricia Schlesinger attends the Opening Ceremony and premiere of ‘The Mauritanian’ during the 71st Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) Summer Special at the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) outdoor cinema in Berlin, Germany, 09 June 2021. Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the 71st Berlinale is taking place in two stages: a virtual Industry Event, that was held from 01 to 05 March 2021, and the Summer Special for the general public running from 09 to 20 June 2021 as an outdoor-only event. EPA-EFE/Andreas Rentz / POOL
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