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German Radio Quota Debate Goes Live

DW staff (nda)September 30, 2004

One of the most debated topics at the Popkomm music industry conference in Berlin this week is that of a German radio quota as a means to promote German language music and artists.

Are Britney and Co. the scourge of the German music industry?Image: AP

France has had a law for a decade to keep pop radio in the hands of French musicians; stations have to play at least 40 percent music by artists in the country. Germany's now considering the same thing, placing a quota on how much foreign music radio stations can play.

It's one of the great debates at Popkomm, the music industry fair in Berlin which started Wednesday. The fear is that Anglo-American music, which has long drowned out German music on the airwaves, has caused irrevocable damage.

Music industry officials estimate that only 10 percent of German radio's play lists is sung in German, falling way short of France, Italy and Spain's 50 percent native language ratio. That's why a chorus of music industry leaders have gone to the German parliament to sing the praises of a law, like France's, which would make sure their sound keeps getting pumped around the nation. However, the government is cautious.

Cultural minister Christina Weiss was reluctant to say whether it's a good idea. She said it's important to have a debate about a German music radio quota, and she hopes that the debate will lead the government to a clear agreement with public radio stations.

Radio responsibility

But the public stations, naturally, don't want to be told what to do. The head of Bavarian public radio, Johannes Grotzky, reportedly denied it's the state's job to support feeble branches of the economy. Germany has one of the world's five biggest music markets. But its industry has suffered a downturn since 1997, with turnover dropping 40 percent. Only 55 percent of the country's best-selling artists are German.

"It is often said that whoever makes good music will get on the radio, but that is just not true," said Björn Akstinat, president of the German music export office during a seminar at Popkomm. And Micha Rhein of German band In Extremo told reporters: "Our record was at number three in the charts for weeks but our promoters had to fight to get the song played on the radio -- it's a cheek."

Konrad Kuhnt, chief editor at Berlin-based Radio Fritz, said his station could only succeed if it chose the best music. "It is not true that we wouldn't play the music. We wish we had the material to present to our listeners when they say they want more."

Tim Renner, Deutschland-Chef des Musikkonzerns Universal
Tim Renner, former head of Germany's Universal Music divisionImage: dpa

Tim Renner from record label Motor Music and former head of Universal Germany backs the idea of supporting local acts, but is leery of a legally mandated quota. "I get mixed feelings when I hear the word quota," Renner told DW-WORLD. "They'll tell you there's not enough good stuff out there. That's not true. They need to promote the cultural diversity, but any quota will mean they've failed to find a radio concept."

Artists protest

Over 500 artists signed a plea against what they dubbed "scandalous under-representation" of German-speaking artists in a radio format carved out of "the Anglo-American mainstream and the usual oldies." Supporting them was Jacques Toubon, former French culture minister, brainchild of France's quota.

He told the parliamentary committee that thanks to his law, French music sales have picked up and new French artists are no longer trees falling in the forest that nobody hears. Record industry executives from all around the world warned a quota wasn't a cure-all -- especially those from non-English speaking countries.

The head of a Danish record label was quoted as saying the law would make it that much harder for music from Denmark -- which isn't exactly breaking through the charts right now -- to sell in Germany.

German pop music, unlike French and Spanish, has always had trouble selling abroad. If Germans don't buy it, it might never be made. There's no spiral effect, where more sales means more money and thus higher quality music. Supporters of a quota want to set that spiral in motion