Is the “disturbed editorial climate” that the NDR had attested to itself last year, to rescue? Although the conditions in the station have already been investigated in several studies, the around one hundred-page “NDR climate report” by theologian and manager Stephan Reimers followed on Tuesday. The 78-year-old, formerly a member of the NDR Broadcasting Council, was commissioned by NDR Director General Joachim Knuth in September to carry out a comprehensive study on corporate culture.
Between November and January, Reimers and his team then held 620 one-on-one and group meetings with over a thousand employees and board members. Reimers admits that many employees initially had doubts about the independence of the investigation team.
According to the report, many employees stand behind the public service broadcaster and the NDR with conviction and passion, but they also express harsh criticism there. The result was twelve insights that, according to Reimers, influence the corporate culture and the working atmosphere in the NDR. These are “often the starting point why tensions and conflicts arise at certain points in the NDR”.
Executives in the NDR were reluctant to make independent decisions
The management structure in the broadcaster is particularly problematic: Many employees are demanding a new management culture and complain about the hierarchical system of the NDR. The report notes a “disconnection” and an “immense loss of trust” between managers and employees. There are many reasons for this: many managers are reluctant to take risks and make independent decisions. The employees wanted managers who knew where to go strategically.
Already in a survey in 2018, employees of the Landesfunkhaus Hamburg criticized the “robust leadership style from above” and reported on “radical power-strategic command behavior, lack of critical ability, self-righteousness and irrationality”. An inappropriate tone “unsettled, intimidated, hurt many employees and poisoned the internal climate”. Nevertheless, according to the current report, there is “no general climate of fear” on the NDR.
The internal communication? Empathetic and smooth
Already, however: “tendencies of obedience, the perceived immaturity up to basic forms of fear”. Employees lack clarity in the language and in the actions of the management. While there is a lack of genuine appreciation, they tend to find internal communication lacking in empathy and smooth. Many think that it is because there is no error culture in the NDR: “NDR does not forgive mistakes. If you’ve messed something up, it’s very difficult to be recognized again,” the report quotes an anonymous employee as saying.
The workload is very high for many in the broadcaster, especially among the freelance journalists. Reimers sees the dual structure of the employment relationships of permanent employees and freelancers in the NDR as a “dead end”. It leads to resentment and to a “two-class society”. This also affects collegial relationships, which are sometimes clearly characterized by mutual mistrust and conflicts.
Does the NDR even have a chance with this devastating verdict? If the theologian Reimers has his way, yes. The NDR is “lively, public broadcasting is far from over”. According to Artistic Director Joachim Knuth, this report goes deep into the existing structures: “The mirror is held up to you and there are views that are not nice.” That’s what it’s all about: “To recognize which blocking patterns there are, to understand them and then to change them.” It remains to be seen whether the changes in the NDR are as serious as the analyzes.