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No exemption from broadcasting fees for reasons of faith and conscience

At the end of last year, the Koblenz Administrative Court ruled that a claim for exemption from the obligation to pay broadcasting fees due to a particular case of hardship can be based neither on a right to refuse performance nor on the fact that the program violates freedom of belief and conscience. It therefore dismissed a corresponding claim.

In the present case, the legal basis for the claim for exemption asserted by the plaintiff was solely Section 4 para. 6 sentence 1 of the Interstate Broadcasting Contribution Treaty (RBStV). Accordingly, in cases of particular hardship, the state broadcasting corporation shall, upon separate application, exempt the following from the obligation to pay contributions

In the case of § 4 para. 6 sentence 1 RBStV is a hardship provision intended to avoid gross injustices and inequities that could be caused by the system set out in Section 4 (1) RBStV. 1 RBStV, the normative regulatory system of the possibility of exemption based on a decision. The provision opens the possibility of not belonging to the groups of persons of § 4 para. 1 RBStV, if there is no objective justification for placing them in a worse position than the exempt groups of persons. The protection of the subsistence minimum can therefore justify, for example, an exemption from broadcasting due to a special case of hardship in the case of contribution debtors who have an income equal to or lower than the standard benefits and who cannot fall back on realizable assets, but who cannot benefit from the granting of the benefits specified in Section 4 (1). 1 RBStV are excluded for lack of fulfillment of the requirements.

However, since the plaintiff in this case does not invoke either its economic neediness or a lack of opportunity to use public broadcasting in Germany – which in any case is only theoretically possible – for example due to a “radio hole,” there was no objective justification for its exemption from the obligation to pay round-robin contributions when measured against the aforementioned standards.

According to the court, the religious and ideological reasons given by the plaintiff for an exemption from the obligation to pay broadcasting fees are of a purely subjective nature and therefore do not provide a sufficient connecting factor for a hardship opposing the collection of fees. At the same time, it follows from the irrelevance of actual use expressly emphasized by the Federal Constitutional Court (cf. BVerfG, judgment of July 18, 2018) that the reasons for not making use of the broadcasting usage option are irrelevant from the outset. This also applies to the religious and ideological motivation of a renunciation of radio and television.

A claim for exemption was already ruled out because the scope of protection of the right to a fair trial in Art. 4 Para. 1 of the Basic Law and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is not affected by the general obligation to pay the broadcasting fee as such.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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