The question of who will head up German pubcaster ZDF remains unanswered after the most recent round of voting in January. Gottfried Langenstein, director in charge of ZDF’s satellite programs (ARTE, 3Sat), earned half of the votes from the 72-member Television Council, but a three-fifths majority is required to win. Langenstein is not necessarily out of the running, but if he stays in the race, he could face new competitors as well as candidates from previous rounds, such as Helmut Reitze, head of ZDF news.
Critics accuse the Television Council – which consists of representatives from social groups and trade unions, as well as reps from each of the 16 German states – of voting along political party lines. Notes Thomas Frickel of German producers’ organization A.G. Dok, ‘Normally public television in Germany is not mixed up with state politics, it has to keep away from governmental authority. What we see at the moment is just the opposite, the strong influence of politics. That’s not the original idea of the independent television broadcasting system in Germany.’
Current ZDF director Dieter Stolte will step down at the end of March, after close to 20 years in the post. Horst Mueller, senior VP of North American operations for ZDF, confirms that he was far from simply a figure head. ‘There was nothing within the network that didn’t get his approval. That’s why it is so difficult to agree on a successor, because it’s such an important and powerful position within the German media industry.’
Stolte worked hard to bring non-fiction programming to greater prominence within ZDF, and Mueller believes any successor will continue along the same path. ‘ZDF’s news and documentary sections have been among the more successful sections within ZDF. Also, we have long-term agreements with international partners, like the History Channel and Discovery.’
The next round of voting for ZDF’s director will take place on March 8 but, as before, there’s no guarantee a successor will be chosen. If no one is in place by the time Stolte steps down, the longest serving VP – in this case, Markus Schaechter, ZDF’s head of programming – will serve in the interim.