The structure of the German media system is set by the federal state. Particularly, broadcasting is shaped by both the Federal Government and the Federal Constitutional Law.
Free speech rights, a free press and program sovereignty of broadcasting are explicitly set in Art. 5 of the German Basic Law (Constitution) from 1949.
Since 1961, the Federal Constitutional Court specified the rather vague instructions of the constitution and, by doing so, developed important principles. The electronic media offer comprehensive information and reflect the diversity of the existing spectrum of opinions, which particularly holds true for PSM. According to the highest German court, PSM are obliged to follow a serve-all principle with a clear educational mandate. PSM are a reference for the public debate and should provide fundamental services, comparable to what is called the “Reithian-Trinity”: information, education and entertainment. Important decisions are, for example, those that deal with the influence of political parties in broadcasting. The first (1961), as well as the latest (2014), verdicts claim that public-service broadcasting should be distant from the state.
In contrast, commercial broadcasting is not equipped with a comparable mandate. Therefore, in order to fulfil their task, PSM are funded by broadcasting fees.
In Germany the nationwide media laws have to be settled by an agreement between the different Länder. In its first decision on the matter, the Federal Constitutional Law decided that broadcasting responsibilities rest within the states, according to Germany’s federal structure. This is especially true for broadcasting laws, which are elaborated as so-called interstate treaties (Rundfunkstaatsverträge).
For example, the 15thRundfunkstaatsvertrag consolidated the paradigm shift in the financing of PSM from a pay-per-device model to a compulsory levy per household in order to adapt PSM financing to the digital media environment and prevent free-riders who watch from mobile electronic devices.
The latest crucial decision of the Federal Constitutional Court took place in 2014. At the time, it was confronted with the question of whether the composition of broadcasting councils in PSM and the existing political influence was compliant with the constitution. The Federal Constitutional Court finally limited the share of politicians in the broadcasting councils to a third of all members.
While broadcasting legislation is oriented more to the common good and the needs of the public sphere-although it has to increasingly comply to EU requirements of competition laws-legislation for press and online media is oriented solely to the market model of competition. Additionally, special legislation is made to protect individual rights of privacy. Press laws are made at the Länder level as well. However, several attempts to pass a framing law for all regional press laws have failed.