Time to make a decision at Bayerischer Rundfunk: What does Wilhelm want? Is the director and former Merkel spokesman running for a third round from 2021? Employees, the media industry and politicians are puzzled.
In the middle of the Corona crisis, Bayerischer Rundfunk is on the verge of setting the course. Is artistic director Ulrich Wilhelm standing for election for a third term? The 59-year-old’s plans have been speculated for months. Before the summer session of the responsible broadcasting council next Thursday (July 16), the tension increases.
Wilhelm has headed the public broadcaster since 2011. The lawyer and journalist was previously government spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). Wilhelm’s second term of office expires at the end of January next year. So far, the election of the director in the broadcasting council has generally taken place with far more advance notice.
Wilhelm actually only announced the decision until the autumn. Now, however, the 50-member broadcasting council is personally meeting in Munich for the first time since the pandemic began, and not just digitally. The days of decision have begun. Because even if the big question is not officially on the agenda, everyone expects that – at the latest – in the hall it becomes clear: What does Wilhelm want? His spokesman is also convinced that “the director’s personal decision will be announced before the summer break”.
The fact that Wilhelm has kept himself covered for so long is seen by some on and off the station as a sign of a possible farewell. On the other hand, long-time companions say: Wilhelm is not the type to leave in the midst of challenges such as austerity, a corona pandemic and media change. So maybe a re-election – but not necessarily for the usual full five years?
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The native of Munich, head of Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), pushed the digital change to the trimedial house almost tirelessly: television, radio and online from a single source instead of in separate divisions – with changed structures, a huge new editorial center in the north of Munich and with the further regionalization of the station across the entire Free State.
As ARD chairman, the BR director has fought particularly for a premium increase in the past two years, which has yet to be approved by the state parliaments. Especially recently, Wilhelm was not always in line with the ARD network. In terms of numbers, the BR is the fourth largest state institute after WDR, SWR and NDR – with around 3,500 permanent employees and almost 1,700 freelance workers.
Even after the time at the top of the ARD, Wilhelm continues to vigorously promote his push for a European response to Amazon, Facebook and Co: a content platform that is independent of the US giants. When speculating about possible future plans beyond the BR, some people therefore look to Brussels: Does he want to continue his persuasion work at EU level in a new role? Another variant: He also brought great expertise, a good network and a lot of passion for the business of film and classical music.
Upon request, broadcasting council members assume that if Wilhelm wants to, he will remain director after the election. His basic course for the future of the broadcaster is ultimately undisputed even by individual critics, and the level of recognition is generally high. Therefore, before he declares himself, no one is expected to raise his hand. When Wilhelm was first re-elected, there were no opponents.
In any case, the position is also a socio-political matter. The broadcasting council, which is decisive by election, counts 50 members of political, ideological and social groups. A dozen of them are members of the state parliament, five from the CSU alone. Bavaria’s State Chancellor and CSU Media Minister Florian Herrmann also sits on the supervisory board. Prime Minister and CSU chief Markus Söder once worked as a journalist for the BR.
Wilhelm is also a party member and before his time in Berlin was also the spokesman for the Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber (CSU). As director, he has so far not spared one or the other contentious controversies with the state government.
The general election is expected at the earliest on October 22 – for the autumn meeting of the broadcasting council. Before a vote, the chairman Lorenz Wolf must give the members at least six weeks in writing to propose candidates, regardless of Wilhelm’s decision. The letter has not yet been sent, says Wolf.
“I plan to do this soon – after consulting the Council of Elders.”[Roland Freund]
- BR_UlrichWilhelm: © Bayerischer Rundfunk