Katrin Vernau: WDR manager to stabilize crisis-ridden RBB

WDR manager Katrin Vernau is to lead the ARD sister broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) as interim boss in the midst of its worst crisis.

Katrin Vernau: WDR manager to stabilize crisis-ridden RBB

WDR manager Katrin Vernau is to lead the ARD sister broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) as interim boss in the midst of its worst crisis. The RBB Broadcasting Council control body elected the 49-year-old administrative director of West German Broadcasting (WDR) as interim director on Wednesday. On the same day, of all days, the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" published an interview in which the previous director Patricia Schlesinger, who was fired without notice, defended herself against allegations.

With Vernau, a solution was found within the ARD and the public broadcasting system. A difficult and arduous time is coming for the manager. Your boss and WDR director Tom Buhrow casually described the whole thing a few days ago in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt as a "fire brigade operation". Allegations of felony and nepotism against Schlesinger and the resigned chief controller Wolf-Dieter Wolf have severely damaged the public broadcaster - and with it the entire system.

The Berlin Attorney General is investigating. An external investigation into a law firm is also underway. Schlesinger and Wolf rejected allegations. The presumption of innocence applies until the allegations have been clarified.

Two ballots required

Two ballots were necessary for the Vernaus election - in the end 16 voted yes, there were 3 no votes and one abstention. The interim director said after the election that it was now necessary to listen to the workers and find out what had led to this crisis. At the content level, it will be about restoring the effectiveness of the supervisory bodies. She also wants to form a team in the management. She also spoke of a necessary "cash drop".

When asked if she could imagine becoming director of the RBB beyond the interim period, the 49-year-old said the perspective was the next twelve months. "And after that - you can see that afterwards." She added: If that is what the Broadcasting Council wanted at RBB, she could also imagine continuing. "But there may be other alternatives after twelve months." Vernau is on leave from WDR and could return.

Brandenburg's Media Secretary Benjamin Grimm (SPD) said: "It's good that there is clear leadership for the time until a new director is elected." The RBB must now provide comprehensive information and draw the necessary conclusions to safely rule out future misconduct. "He has to be able to act now." Brandenburg currently has the legal supervision of the RBB.

RBB Broadcasting Council Chairman Dieter Pienkny was satisfied that the "hanging game" was over. He spoke of a "stubborn renovation work". He is also optimistic that the "sore soul" of the workforce will be treated.

Vernau is an expert

With Vernau, a connoisseur of the crooked and widely ramified public service broadcasting comes to the RBB. Before the election, there were also voices calling for a different solution - someone who had had nothing to do with the system up until then, who was virtually "untainted". So far, Vernau has been a permanent fixture for WDR, the largest ARD broadcaster. To date, it controls one of the largest organizations in public service broadcasting. She is considered competent and hands-on when you ask around in the ARD environment. In May 2019, she was re-elected to her position as Administrative Director by a large majority. She has held the post since 2015. Her current term of office runs until the end of February 2025.

The doctor of economics, who was born in Villingen-Schwenningen in Baden-Württemberg in 1973, has also gained experience in the private sector. She was a partner at the management consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and headed the Roland Berger School of Strategy and Economics. At times she was also Chancellor of the University of Hamburg and then the University of Ulm until 2015.

Position of the WDR is strengthened

At the same time, the position of the WDR within the ARD is strengthened with the appointment of Vernau. Buhrow himself had already stepped in for the important post of ARD chairman, which Schlesinger had to give up in the middle of the RBB affair. Buhrow had been their representative and thus moved up. The ARD boss represents the nine houses of the broadcasting community towards society and politics until the end of the year - a key function. After that, the SWR will probably take over.

In an unprecedented action, Buhrow had declared on behalf of the other ARD directors that they had lost confidence in the current RBB management.

The choice of Vernaus was not without controversy, which per se was not due to their competence. The editorial committee and the representatives of the freelance employees of the RBB, who gained power and influence during the crisis, did not like the fact that there was no selection of several candidates for the interim position. The free agency also said: "The actions of the WDR director in dealing with the RBB leadership crisis were viewed with great skepticism by the RBB workforce. The mere impression that Ms Vernau was being appointed as a WDR governor would be a considerable burden. "

The chairwoman of the RBB board of directors as the second control body, Dorette König, said in the media committee in the Berlin House of Representatives that she also had a candidate outside of ARD in mind for the office. With reference to the tasks of the new interim boss, König added: It is important to reunite the house and create a basis for "putting the RBB back on the track".

"Die Zeit" publishes Schlesinger's interview

On the same day, "Die Zeit" published the Schlesinger interview. The 61-year-old left open whether she would take action against the termination without notice. The allegations that have been raised by media reports since the end of June also include a controversial practice of having dinner in her private apartment at the expense of the broadcaster, allegedly they were not billed correctly. She said: "I have accounted for everything to the best of my knowledge."

It was also criticized that the RBB received a very high discount for an expensive Schlesinger company car with massage seats - the director also had a private chauffeur available. Schlesinger said she didn't want massage seats. "I didn't configure the car myself. I don't need massage seats, that's superfluous gimmick for me." Cars wouldn't mean much to her. "I privately drive a 17-year-old VW Polo. It's out there in front of the door. Otherwise, it's an old white bicycle."

The ex-director compared the reporting of the allegations with a "tsunami". She also said: "The accusations come from my closest environment. That hit me particularly hard, it hurts me to this day." She didn't name any names. Internal documents have been leaking out for weeks, with the online medium Business Insider in particular reporting on many details of the allegations. Schlesinger said: "I didn't sleep much during that time. It felt like reloading a gun that was pointed at me. Many of the allegations aren't true."

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