The director of Südwestrundfunk (SWR), Kai Gniffke, will take over the ARD chairmanship in 2023. The ARD directors and committee chairmen decided on Wednesday according to ARD information in Bremen. After the resignation of the RBB director Patricia Schlesinger from the ARD chairmanship, who was fired without notice, Gniffke started a year earlier than planned.
The 61-year-old has a difficult task ahead of him. Gniffke takes over the ARD business in what is perhaps the most challenging time for public broadcasting. The ARD broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) has plunged into a deep crisis in the midst of allegations of misconduct, and there is also rumbling in the houses of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) in Hamburg and Kiel. The pressure on the public service system is also growing for this reason.
ARD chairmanship changes from time to time
The ARD chairmanship changes among the ARD stations from time to time. Large houses are predestined for this because they already offer a large infrastructure. But also smaller houses already had the ARD presidency. As a rule, an intendant stays in office for two years. Towards the end of the first year he will be confirmed for a second year. The SWR now has to prepare for the ARD presidency in a hurry. This is usually all planned well in advance.
Gniffke was quoted as saying in the ARD report on Wednesday: "ARD belongs to everyone in Germany because it is supported by society as a whole." That is a great privilege. "We will make it even clearer that we are independent and committed to journalistic quality."
The ARD chairmanship means a lot of extra work for an institution, but also prestige. The chairman represents the community as the highest representative and spokesman for the artistic directors. He enters into dialogue with politics and society. He also sets his own impulses for public broadcasting.
In the ARD comparison, SWR is the second largest broadcaster after West German Broadcasting (WDR) and ahead of North German Broadcasting (NDR). In 2021, the SWR received a good one billion euros in broadcast contributions. The transmission area extends over Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.
Buhrow: Gniffke has "full support from the community"
Gniffke takes over the ARD chairmanship from WDR director Tom Buhrow, who recently stepped in and will continue to run the business until the end of the year because RBB director Schlesinger resigned from the ARD chairmanship in August.
The RBB is currently in a difficult situation. Allegations of the felt and nepotism at the top of the RBB are in the room, the focus of criticism are Schlesinger and the resigned station chief controller Wolf-Dieter Wolf. Both rejected allegations.
The WDR manager Katrin Vernau should stabilize again as interim director. There was even a fear within the ARD that the structures in the broadcaster could dissolve in the midst of the confusing situation.
RBB crisis in focus
Gniffke will certainly have to do a lot of work to ensure that RBB can move back into the center of the ARD community. In an unprecedented action, the directors recently distanced themselves from the RBB leadership. ARD boss Buhrow had publicly announced that the trust in the previous RBB management – that was before the interim solution – had been lost.
The scandal at the RBB, which has become known bit by bit since June through reports in the online medium "Business Insider", has long since pulled public broadcasting into a maelstrom. The NDR is also increasingly in focus. At the Landesfunkhaus Kiel, unsolved allegations against the top journalists are being examined to see whether there could have been any influence on political reporting.
It has also been restless at the Hamburg NDR site since allegations against the director of the state broadcasting center were made. The question in media reports is whether she could have used her job to provide family members with advantages. The NDR and some of the criticized executives had rejected the allegations. Several are currently resting their work.
Federal states reform public service broadcasting
Gniffke's ARD presidency also comes at an exciting time because the federal states are currently reforming public broadcasting. A first step towards order and structure has been made, the whole thing still has to be signed by the prime ministers and passed by the state parliaments. The next important reform step follows for the financing of public service broadcasting in Germany. In addition, the amount of the license fee will come into play again in the long term. The current contribution period runs until 2024. Politicians have long warmed up.
Gniffke has been with SWR since 2019. He has been working for ARD since the 1990s. From 2006 to 2019 he was the first editor-in-chief at the ARD community facility ARD-aktuell in Hamburg. This produces, for example, the news programs "Tagesschau" and "Tagesthemen". Gniffke was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1960. After studying political science, sociology and public law, he did his doctorate, followed by a career in public broadcasting.