image of 70 years of „Wort zum Sonntag“ - A plea for the pluralization (or abolition) of religious broadcasting slots

70 years of „Wort zum Sonntag“ - A plea for the pluralization (or abolition) of religious broadcasting slots

On the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the ARD program „Wort zum Sonntag“, Tim Karis, the Scientific Director of CERES, was interviewed by WDR for the Tagesschau, Tagesthemen and by Deutschlandfunk for the program "Tag für Tag".

The „Wort zum Sonntag“, which was first broadcast on May 8, 1954, is the second oldest continuously broadcast format on German television after the Tagesschau. Every Saturday, pastors, priests and theologians, among others, comment on everyday topics, often seeking to make reference to current events and developments. According to the „Rundfunk-Staatsvertrag“ (Interstate Broadcasting Treaty), the Christian churches are still entitled to broadcasting time - they are also responsible for the content.

Tim Karis has repeatedly examined the relationship between religion, broadcasting rights and media regulation and, in this context, has also dealt with the „Wort zum Sonntag“. In view of an increasingly secular and religiously diverse society, Karis is in favor of expanding and diversifying broadcasting slots. Despite its outdated image, the program itself is not the problem. The main issue is that broadcasting time is given exclusively to the major christian churches and elsewhere to the Jewish communities, while other religious communities are not. This is not in keeping with the times and is distorting. The situation is also made more complex by the fact that the program is not financed by church taxes, but by broadcasting fees.

Karis identifies the core of the problem in the fact that the legal provisions on which the broadcasting slot is based were formulated shortly after the Second World War. At that time, almost all Germans were members of one of the major churches and the concern about an excessive concentration of power in public broadcasting was historically still omnipresent and understandable. Today, the situation is fundamentally different: Less than half of Germans are still members of one of the churches and there are a large number of people with other religious beliefs, especially Muslims. In this respect, the question of equal treatment arises if only two religions are allowed to preach exclusively on television. 
Karis also points out that the technical framework conditions have changed. Today, there is an overabundance of broadcasting frequencies and the internet also offers a wide range of opportunities for all religions to have their own publication formats, so that a special right for religions to broadcasting time on the radio is no longer plausible anyway.

For Tim Karis, there are only two possible solutions: Either the third-party broadcasting right should be extended to other religions, as was practiced until recently in the Netherlands, for example, and is already practiced nationally in certain media (BR, Deutschlandradio Kultur). In the interests of equal treatment of religions, the alternative could only be to abolish third-party broadcasting rights altogether, as has now been done in the Netherlands.