Tobias Schmid – guardian of the democratic media landscape

Tobias Schmid: Member of the Board of the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and European Representative of the Conference of Directors of the State Media Authorities. (Photo: Annette Etges)

“For me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world”. A sentence that tends to degenerate into a phrase for many. In Tobias Schmid’s case, however, it comes across as authentic. The director of the North Rhine-Westphalia Media Authority (LfM NRW), which watches over private broadcasting in the state, wants his work to promote media freedom and democratic values. Idealism is also what unites him and his colleagues, he says. This “common ground” ensures a sense of community in the organization and, in Tobias Schmid’s case, fulfillment in his job.

Schmid’s path into the media world has been more down to chance than anything else: After studying law, he started his legal clerkship, his goal being to become a public prosecutor. But the working conditions put him off, he changed his plans, worked in a law firm focusing on copyright, at Sat.1 and for several years as general counsel at teleshopping broadcaster HSE 24. “That was a bit bizarre at first, you first have to come up with the idea of even doing that”, Schmid recalls. “But it was a lot of fun”. He then moved to RTL, where he stayed for several years.

Important voice on the Media Freedom Act

Finally, Schmid was proposed for the post of Director of the State Media Authority. The doctor of law has been in office since 2017, and last year he was confirmed for another six years. His tasks: classic management, setting priorities, networking various media organizations.

He himself says that time management and patience were not among his strengths. Nevertheless, he manages to hold many positions and offices at the same time. He is the European representative of the Conference of Directors of the State Media Authorities, and also a board member of the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA). This group plays a decisive role in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which is intended to protect the media from the influence of politics on editorial decisions.

Improvements to the EMFA called for

The fact that the EU wanted to create a separate supervisory authority for this purpose did not go down well in Germany: Last year, the Bundesrat sent a subsidiarity complaint to Brussels. The European Commission has convergence difficulties with the high degree of independence in media supervision, says Tobias Schmid. That’s why he understands the countries, especially with concerns about too much state influence. “It is important that the EMFA is improved at this point, because the European Commission’s ability to intervene, even if it is well-intentioned, is very incompatible with the principle of independence“.

Schmid sees a major challenge for the media industry in preserving journalistic diversity. “It is the life insurance of freedom of opinion. And freedom of opinion is the life insurance of democracy“. He says it thrives on discourse, which flourishes through different opinions in different media. The pressure on print media, especially regional and local, radio and, more recently, television, is increasing enormously, he said. One task of the regulatory authorities is to stabilize journalistic diversity, says Tobias Schmid. Kim Fischer


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