Whoever said sports brings people together? In Germany, football has created a rift between A.G. Dok (the German Doc Filmmakers’ Association) and the country’s public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF. The issue is how much money the pubcasters are willing to pay the Kirch Group for the broadcast rights to the 2002 and 2006 football world championships – DM104,000 (US$47,000) per minute for the 2002 game and DM200,000 (US$90,500) per minute for 2006. (The deal for the 2002 game is complete, while negotiations for 2006 are ongoing.)
In A.G. Dok’s estimation, the fees are high compared to the amount paid for almost any other type of programming, but are particularly unconscionable compared to the fees the pubcasters offer docs. A.G. Dok alleges the disparity between the fees paid for doc film rights and those paid for football broadcast rights constitutes improper use of standing charges (state aid).
Rather than fume quietly, A.G. Dok filed a formal complaint to E.U. commissioner for education and culture Viviane Reding at the end of March, effectively going over the pubcasters’ heads. Thomas Frickel, head of A.G. Dok’s board, says, ‘Last December we had direct negotiations with ARD and ZDF, but until now there have been no concrete results from this discussion – about special fees for the repetition of our programs, rights, and so on. This is one way to remind public TV in Germany that it has a special responsibility to the sector we’re covering.’
Christophe Forax, spokesperson for Commissioner Reding, acknowledges receipt of the complaint and says it will be considered carefully. He notes, however, ‘It is the responsibility of each member state to decide what exactly is part of the public remit… The commission’s job is just to check whether the public money given to the broadcasters is proportionate to cover what is foreseen as part of the public remit.’
In the pubcasters’ defense, Philipp Baum, head of communications for ZDF, says: ‘The money we will pay for the soccer games in 2002 is included in our financial budgets for sports between 2001 and 2004… No mark we pay for the soccer games will be taken from the budgets for fiction and documentary programs. We will cut other programs for sports because we bought soccer. Forty-five percent of the daily programs and 45% of the primetime programs are information, documentaries and magazine shows. It is a joke to say they cut documentaries because they bought soccer.’