Many discussions started in the 1990s about the way commercial broadcasters were presenting their TV schedules. Critics argued that there was too much sex and violence in these schedules and began to call for regulations and restrictions. But the organisations responsible for the granting of broadcasting licences and compliance with the protection of minors (State Media Authorities) are not allowed to censor broadcasters before movies and series are broadcast. The German Constitution also provides the legal framework for the restriction of censorship.
An idea is born
In 1993 Joachim von Gottberg, who was the then representative of the Supreme State Youth Authorities (Oberste Landesjugendbehörde) at the Voluntary Self-regulation of Film Industry (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft: FSK), suggested that this system also be applied to television. The FSK's examination guidelines would be used as the basis for the new authority and adapted to the particular conditions of television.
Politicians and broadcasters both agreed with the proposal. Commercial broadcasters agreed to finance this system of self-regulation. The public broadcasters refused to join this system as they already had a supervisory framework. Joachim von Gottberg was appointed as FSF's chief executive officer, and 70 examiners were recruited, with many of them coming from the FSK. On April 4, 1994, the association began operations.
Problems and criticism
However, problems were also encountered. Since the regulatory process was optional, it was not completely satisfactory. Daily talk shows and programmes such as Big Brother were either broadcast live or produced shortly before airing. Thus, there was neither enough time, nor examiners available for an examination to be conducted. However, the FSF found ways of dealing with these problems and came to an arrangement after negotiating with the commercial broadcasters.
In 2001 a concept paper was drafted for the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag: JMStV). This treaty aimed to establish a legal framework for regulated self-regulation. After discussions about the regulation's structure and duration, politicians unanimously agreed on the proposal, and the legislation came into effect on April 1, 2003. At the same time, a new law for the protection of minors (Protection of Young Persons Act; Jugendschutzgesetz: JuSchG) was passed by merging two former statutes. Today, the protection of minors in offline media (cinema, video and computer-games) is generally regulated.
Online media (television and Internet) is included in a legal framework through the JMStV. This law also merges two former statutes. The legal authorities respect the independence and expertise of the organisations of voluntary self-regulation (FSF and the Voluntary Self-Monitoring of Multimedia Providers; Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Multimedia-Diensteanbieter: FSM) and their examination procedures. The German federal states entrust the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz: KJM) with the task of ensuring that their obligation to protect minors is fulfilled. However, the KJM is only allowed to intervene if the organisations of self-regulation do not operate properly.
Since August 1, 2003, the FSF has been an officially recognised organisation of voluntary self-regulation, and this organisation has proved its worth. Nowadays, broadcasters tend to send in more programmes for examination, and the FSF's work in the fields of fiction films and series can be regarded as completely satisfactory. However, such TV shows as Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity – Get Me out of Here! continue to be difficult to regulate. It is difficult to decide whether such shows are relevant for the protection of minors or only a matter of taste.
Broadcasters constantly come up with new ideas, and this makes it difficult for the FSF to keep up by updating their examination regulations. The spread of scripted reality shows (shows pretending to present stories taken from reality stories, when, in fact, the protagonists are amateur actors and the conflicts and love stories are invented) has triggered new debate on the afternoon schedules of most German commercial broadcasters. The FSF is therefore constantly dealing with new challenges thanks to such developments.
Since May 2012, the FSF has also been responsible for monitoring content on the Internet which is similar to television.