If a new ARD initiative goes through, Germany’s pubcasters may stop airing free rascist-tinged campaign ads. But perhaps more attractive to public station heads is the idea of finally losing their old-fashioned image of state-subservience, not to mention awkward, boring interruptions in programming.

More than a year before Germany’s national elections, Jobst Plog, chairman of ARD, the country’s largest pubcaster, has demanded that pubcasters be absolved from the duty of providing free airtime to political parties. The pubcasters’ state-approved charters dictate that they provide free advertising time — up to eight 2 1/2 minute spots per party — during campaign years.

Though the spots don’t cut into pubcasters’ legally limited paid-advertising time, in a national election year they can add up to 112 minutes of programming interruptions.

Because the free airtime is available to all parties legally eligible to campaign for office, pubcasters find themselves inadvertently airing politically distasteful views. Ultra-conservative fringe parties like the Reps and the DVU often campaign on anti-foreigner platforms, but as long as the constitutional court does not outlaw the party or its campaign slogans, pubcasters have to run their ads.

“I don’t dare imagine what could happen when we have to air the campaign spots of parties and associations that sympathize with murderers,” Plog said.

Plog’s demands sound impressive in the current climate, but in order to prohibit the fringe groups from advertising, the ads of the big parties would have to be disallowed as well. That would give the ARD a number of advantages, including up to 112 more minutes per year, more programming freedom, less danger of falling victim to zapper-restlessness. And viewers would have one less reason to switch over to the private stations, which do not have to air the spots.

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