It seems like wherever you live, people try to make money from you for nothing. That is an accusation we can hardly level at the Germans alone. Yet when a letter arrives through your door demanding 20 Euro a month for your apparently criminal owning of various devices which could (but are not) be used for certain purposes, you do start to wonder.
In west Germany (no surprise there), there is an organisation called the GEZ. The translation of their name essentially comes down to “Fee Collecting Central”, and they aren’t much else. They are responsible for the license fee, charged for public TV and radio. Exactly where the generated money from these advert-ridden services goes, then, is anybody’s guess.
The trouble with the GEZ is their broad and wild definitions, and their attempts to legally back the little man into the corner. Allow us to consider the following situations: If you own a kitchen knife, you could (theoretically) use it to stab somebody and this would make you liabe to pay police fines and go to prison. Should you be punished for that crime just because you own the equipment which would facilitate it? No. Say you own a baseball bat. You may be a keen sportsman, however you may also attack innocent people with it and have to go to court. So should all sportsmen go to court? You get the picture.
So what if you own a laptop? A mobile phone? Any kind of “modern device”? The GEZ refers to “neuartige Geraete” (new fangled devices) and prints their letters in a font reminiscent of a typewriter. In their threatening letter, they give you the choice of admitting that you watch TV and listen to the radio, and thus paying their exorbitant charges for advert-funded material, or to legally deny that you own devices capable of it. You can imagine the court case: “Mr Smith, can you legally deny that you own a kitchen knife which would technically have been capable of murdering this woman, regardless of whether you actually did it or not?”. So the authorities force you into a lie or submission. Seldom has widespread blackmail been so obvious. Simply owning a mobile phone, for telephoning and texting, or a laptop for internet accesss, does not mean that you watch TV or listen to radio over these services. A previous post highlighted the immense amount of rubbish on German TV, so one would have to wonder why exactly anyone would watch it.
If you watch TV and listen to the radio, of course the GEZ has a case. Simply owning a computer and browsing the internet? No. Private households pay their internet provieder fees – whethere those companies are liable to pass on moneys to the owners of the telephone lines used is an issue for them, not for the customer. The maffa-like GEZ has been a cancererous intruder into German life for too long.