Fourth largest ARD station has to look for a new boss

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Director-General Wilhelm left: He kept himself covered for a long time. Now it’s out: BR boss Wilhelm stops. The former Merkel spokesman rebuilt the transmitter vigorously – and now leaves a big open question.

After ten years at the helm of Bayerischer Rundfunk, artistic director Ulrich Wilhelm will leave the station early next year. The 59-year-old no longer wants to run for a third term at the fourth largest ARD state station.

Wilhelm’s contract runs until the end of January. “I am convinced that February is the right time to hand over the house,” he stressed in Munich on Friday. “Decisive stages of our renovation process and regionalization have been successfully completed.”

Wilhelm has headed the station since 2011. The lawyer and journalist was previously government spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). He said nothing about his further professional future.

Wilhelm has already put a lot of energy into his push for a European alternative to the US Internet giants like Google and Facebook. He wants to continue to fight at EU level – possibly in a new role? He also has a lot of experience and good relationships in the film and classic business. In the meantime, Berlin has also become a second home for the Munich native.

A new boss for Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) faces major challenges as with all public service broadcasters: a massive media change, the consequences of the corona crisis and the austerity measures required by politicians.

The broadcasting council elects the BR director. In addition to the professional decision, the decision is also a highly socio-political matter. 50 councils represent political, ideological and social groups. A dozen are members of the state parliament, five of the CSU alone, plus CSU media minister and state chancellor Florian Herrmann.

The general election is expected at the earliest for the autumn Council meeting on October 22nd. Before that, the chairman Lorenz Wolf, on the committee for the Catholic Church, must give the members at least six weeks in writing for suggestions.

An external and internal solution is considered possible. Nobody wanted to raise his hand visibly in front of Wilhelm’s word. Obvious questions now: is anyone in the public service world interested? Will it be an artistic director at BR for the first time? Women are currently at the top in three of the nine ARD state stations.

The BR classically refers to the second management level on the question of succession. So the five top management and also the editor-in-chief. So far there is no talk of a clear favorite on the station.

Wilhelm garnered high acclaim throughout the decade in the BR executive chair. Even with individual critics who were recently more audible. The trademark of the charming blonde: an always friendly smile for his interlocutors – even if the precise lawyer and eloquent ex-journalist completely contradicts.

As ARD Chairman (2018/2019), he sought compensation from newspaper publishers through his direct line to Springer boss and publisher president Mathias Döpfner (BDZV). At the same time, Wilhelm’s regional offensive for more and more BR reports from all corners of Bavaria is a thorn in the side of many media companies in the Free State.

In the debate on the radio broadcast, he was tough on politics – not always to the delight of all ARD broadcasters. Recently, the BR was the only state institution that did not take part in a new ARD cultural platform based in the east. There was an audible crunch. “Isolated,” was some assessment in the association.

In any case, the situation with ARD and BR is like that between the Free State and the rest of Germany: Bayern are at least considered self-confident. “We are who we are”. In terms of numbers, the BR is number four among the ARD state stations after WDR, SWR and NDR.

Wilhelm’s work: He vigorously converts the transmitter into a trimedial house – TV, radio and online from a single source instead of in sections. The centerpiece is the new giant Freimann editorial center in the north of Munich.

The profound change at all levels moves the roughly 3,500 permanent employees, 1,700 employee-like freelancers and a good 400 salary recipients. In 2019, for the first time in the collective bargaining conflict, there were strikes lasting several days with transmission failures.

Despite his CSU party book and his previous role as Bavaria’s government spokesman for Edmund Stoiber (CSU), Wilhelm does not shy away from the dispute with the state government. The then Prime Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) was publicly angry with him in 2015.

The occasion: After a controversial guest appearance by the Bavarian finance minister in the BR home series “Dahoam is dahoam”, Wilhelm declared it a taboo zone for politicians.

The minister on the set was today’s head of the CSU and government: Markus Söder – even in his early years journalist at the BR.[Roland Freund]

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