TV Fee Terror Part 5!

In light of the discussion that recently broke out about German investigators who come to your door and pose questions to you about televisions and radios you own (to get you to admit you own them, and then sign you up for the German media tax), I just thought I’d link you to this story (G) about the intrusive and aggressive tactics of some of the freelance enforcers of this tax (which is collected by a German agency called the GEZ).

This story is number five in an ongoing series, and that the newspaper (the FAZ) reports that the problem of aggressive fee collectors is an "unending story," judging from the amount of mail they have gotten from readers during the course of the series.  In this episode, a German/Canadian citizen who was accosted by a GEZ agent registered a television he had borrowed from his brother during a stay in a German vacation home. The GEZ begins booking money from his account, and takes months to stop, even after he’s informed them many times that he does not reside in Germany. Also, if you become homeless, but forget to officially de-register (abmelden) yourself from the rolls of television owners, and then later get your own apartment again, you will be billed for all the years you were technically, officially still "registered," but were actually living on the street.

We all agree that technically, you don’t have to tell the GEZ people anything, and that they are not allowed to enter your home. But after reading all of these stories, you cannot seriously argue that the the conduct of GEZ investigators doesn’t represent a serious intrusion by the state into the private autonomy of citizens. The moral of the story, which is the moral of all stories about all bureaucracies, is that once they get their hooks into you, you’re done for. Either comply immediately, or live ‘off the grid.’

By the way, I don’t watch very much television, but I’m generally satisfied with German TV and more than satisfied with German public radio stations, so I happy pay my GEZ fee.

8 thoughts on “TV Fee Terror Part 5!

  1. Tabled suggestions to solve the problem have been encrypting public TV channels or introducing a general monthly “media fee” directly collected by the tax authorities (it works with road tax, so why shouldn’t it work with media tax). Sounds so simple, but to make simple changes to long-standing practices is hard in Germany.


  2. I’ve been mentally comparing this with the private sector equivalent – monthly cable fees. The problem is that the cable company can cut you off immediately and the GEZ cannot. Like many cable companies it seems that GEZ writes the rules to suit it’s convenience and maximize it’s revenues, not with any visible idea of ‘fairness’.

    Gernarally (but not always) cable companies allow you to stop service and payment. And they do not seem to be able to collect for years of service not rendered (as in the homeless example). Let’s consider a more reasonable scenario where your company transfers you to the US for a few years, When you return to Germany GEZ sticks you with a bill for the period of you’re absence since you were incautious enough not to deregister with them!

    Sounds like a case of really, really poor customer service from a company wih the power of the state behind them. Not unique – I once was obliged to cancel a credit card to stop an internet provider from billing me monthly despite the fact I’d left them months before. Repeated entreaties and demands to remove me from their roles did not work.


  3. I fully agree that the GEZ is an abomination and there is no justification for it. If you want to collect a tax, collect it as a tax. If you want to charge for cable service, charge for cable service. No need to pay for a Stasi-like agency on top of all that.


  4. The GEZ is NOT a public organization. Therefore, GEZ investigators represent a serious intrusion by the state into the private autonomy of citizens as little as annoying people from call centers trying to sell some NKL fortunes (NKL: Northwest German State Lottery) do.


  5. @Don:

    I’ve been mentally comparing this with the private sector equivalent – monthly cable fees. The problem is that the cable company can cut you off immediately and the GEZ cannot.

    The GEZ can’t do anything at all. You have to contact them, for Heaven’s sake. Sure, they can troll the residence change records for potential victims, but then if you tell them that you don’t own a TV set, they have to take your word for it. That is precisely why they behave so nastily, because they have no powers (except the unbelievable superpower to “arrive at your door,” as we have learned).

    That’s also why they consciously cultivate their threatening public image. The idea that they want implanted in people’s heads is: Don’t mess with the GEZ, it’s only futile unpleasantness and they’ll make your life a living hell. Just look at their ad campaigns (paid for from our TV fees, I suppose) to see what I mean. To a degree, people who breathlessly repeat GEZ horror stories are doing their work for them.

    As an aside, always remember you’re not really dealing with an annoying pimple on the face of Germany’s otherwise cozy broadcasting landscape – you are, in fact, dealing with your friendly state broadcasting agency, like the NDR and so on. The GEZ letterhead is just a front.


  6. And the computer is auch angemeldet?

    there is no need to register you computer as long as you pay for your tv.
    but in fact you will be asked if you have a pc as soon as you “refuse” to admit that you have a tv.
    my experience is, that you do best by just not answering on any mail you recieve from the GEZ, or if you have no problem with lieing to them to just do so.


  7. Sebastian, I am aware of the entire thing. The UK has it’s own similar perversion of the line between public and private called the BBC, and they periodically demand a license fee from me. Usually via letter, which I ignore, but sometimes they send a functionary to my door. If I’m feeling magnanimous (and the house is clean) I invite ‘it’ into the lounge so it can see for itself that I do not possess a television.

    The point I was making is that GEZ (and the Beeb) broadcast in the clear and thus cannot cut off service to non-payers. Anyone who owns a TV can tune in without paying. Thus the goons. The cable companies don’t have that problem….


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