BERLIN, May 16 (Xinhua) -- The German Federal Constitutional Court has launched a new round of deliberations over the legal validity of mandatory fees levied by the government on behalf of public broadcasters on Wednesday.
In the course of the closely-watched case, the court will consider whether an obligatory broadcasting fee paid by all households in Germany is compatible with the country's constitution. The Karlsruhe-based judges have reserved two days to subject the matter to close scrutiny before arriving at a response.
Following a reform of regulations in 2013, German citizens must pay 17.5 euros in monthly broadcasting fees for each legally-occupied apartment. The amount that companies have to pay is derived on the basis of the number of operating sites, company cars and employees.
The judicial process launched by the Federal Constitutional Court on Wednesday comes in response to related complaints formally lodged by three private individuals and the German car rental company Sixt. The plaintiffs argue that the fee is equivalent to a tax and must hence be levied by the federal government, rather than state authorities as is currently the case.
Furthermore, the fee is seen to fall foul of the constitutional principle of equality by the plaintiffs, as German citizens and companies are made to pay regardless of whether, and to what extent, they actually access public broadcasting services.
Sixt has also complained that the system for companies puts businesses with a high number of branches at a commercial disadvantage.
In Germany, the public broadcasters "ARD", "ZDF" and "Deutschlandradio" all rely on the fee as their most important source of revenue. The three media organization received a combined 8 billion euros (9.5 billion U.S. dollars) in funds in 2016.
The public broadcasting fee is enshrined in the German constitution as a means to ensure the independent provision of relevant, non-partisan and high-quality information services to citizens. According to the German law, organizations that are remunerated must in turn offer nation-wide access to their programs and a so-called "basic provision" of several different categories of media programs.
Although German courts have repeatedly defended the existence of a public broadcasting fee as a matter of principle, several opposition parties want to either reduce or completely eliminate the financial transfers.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) has called for a redefinition of the legal term public broadcasting, while the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has repeatedly demanded a full stop to what they view as "forced funding" for media organizations which are beholden to a liberal worldview.
Additionally, legal experts have questioned in how far a significant widening of broadcasting programs in recent years is compatible with the constitutional "basic provision" clause.
Speaking to the newspaper "ZEIT" the attorney Sascha Giller, who represents several clients in broadcasting fee cases, asked rhetorically why citizens should be "forced to pay" for additional services which they had not requested.
Regardless of the outcome of ongoing court deliberations, many German citizens appear to share Giller's critical view of the current system of public broadcasting funding.
A recent opinion poll by the YouGov institute found that 44 percent of respondents considered the levels of fees to be too high, while 43 percent expressed a desire to be relieved of their payments duty entirely.