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More hard times at Teutonic web ARD

Industry observers expect a shakeup at the pubcaster

BERLIN — A series of corruption scandals has left ARD, Germany’s colossal pubcaster, teetering, and triggered calls for reform.

Barely recovering from a product-placement scandal that tarnished its credibility as Germany’s most respected network, ARD suffered a one-two punch with the June 29 arrest of former senior sports commentator Juergen Emig on charges of corruption, followed by a probe of sports reporter Wilfried Mohren.

Frankfurt prosecutors arrested Emig, former head of sports at ARD regional affiliate Hessischer Rundfunk, following a 14-month investigation.

Emig resigned last year amid allegations he had demanded bribes from sports promoters for covering non-mainstream events such as handball. Prosecutors have also accused him of illegal product placement on his TV sports reports for companies that had deals with his wife’s media consulting firm.

The probe against Emig led prosecutors to Mohren, senior sports commentator at regional affiliate MDR. He is under investigation for corruption in connection with Emig’s alleged illicit dealings.

Frankfurt chief prosecutor Wolfgang Schaupensteiner says it’s not clear whether this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Critics claim ARD’s increasing use of outside production companies has created a murky network of deals that foster a climate for corruption and nepotism by making it difficult to sort out who is paid for what.

Industry observers expect a shakeup at the pubcaster, especially if the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union gets into office in September.

ARD has set up a watchdog committee to oversee production of sports broadcasts.

Yet ARD program director Guenter Struve stresses that ARD is an organization made up of nine independent affiliates and that supervision of Emig and Mohren lay with HR and MDR.

Last month’s product placement scandal at ARD-owned production giant Bavaria Film has already cost Bavaria topper Thilo Kleine his job. Product placement is illegal in Germany. ARD execs have been in damage-control mode since.

Independent producers, meanwhile, want ARD to privatize Bavaria, which they say has an unfair advantage in the market because of ARD’s financial backing and a constant flow of commissions from the network.

Few have spoken out publicly, however.

Bavaria is Germany’s biggest production group and a constant source of jobs.

The group has some 30 production subsidiaries in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, including the publicly listed Odeon Film and Cinemedia Film.

Martin Stadelmaier, head of the state chancellery in Rhineland-Palatinate, has warned ARD to keep its large numbers of production companies in check and said tighter regulations to keep product placement violations off the air are a possibility.

Pubcasters could face fines of up to e250,000 ($303,000) or be forced to run on-air apologies for illicit ads.

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