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Stefan Müller Quality Assurance at ZDF
Quality has many perspectives. In the case of a public broadcaster, one is the perspective of the client, i. e., the democratically elected state parliaments, which formulate social demands as a framework for the programme to be produced. On the other hand, there is the one of the broadcaster and, in the true sense of
the word, its journalists, editors and producers, who follow their professional demands. Then there are those of the users, who in turn evaluate the programme offered according to their personal expectations. And finally, that of the current, rapidly changing market, which sets its own standards for production value, addressing target groups and dramaturgy on the various playout platforms. Quality assurance is complex and can succeed today only if it is conceived in multiple perspectives, if it remains open to adjustments, and if it nevertheless manages to operate with a uniform, comprehensible and recognized set of instruments and clear goals. At ZDF, the ZDF COMPASS was developed
as a central management tool for this purpose, incorporating the dimensions
of use, quality, impact, and acceptance. I would like to outline some
aspects of this in the following. Society formulates an essential quality criterion
in the form of the mission assigned to public broadcasting. In Germany
ZDF is supposed to provide all citizens with an offer that informs, educates,
advises, entertains in an appropriate manner, and conveys culture
to them. The fulfillment of this mission constitutes a specific public service
quality in contrast to the market-driven media offerings of private
companies. Whether the implementation in the programme succeeds, however, is subject to the judgment of the viewers to a considerable extent. Mission fulfillment
that is not recognized comes to nothing. An effect that is perceived by
users as personal added value must be verified by surveys and studies, and
the results must be fed back into the editorial work. Credibility is the conditio
sine qua non of public broadcasting. It is the basis for its role in democracy,
not only to inform people about all important events and developments, but
to do so independently of the political leadership and other powerful people
in the country. The professional ethics of our journalists should not be taken
for granted in the reception of this. Criticism from small but vocal segments
of the population and some media outlets that exploit this to their advantage
is audible. That's why it's important to make journalistic quality and reliability
more visible through maximum transparency, communication, and education,
and to continually rebuild and maintain trust in dialogue with viewers. The RR
cannot enforce media competence in the population, but it can be a partner
for social educational institutions in their efforts to increase it. Another overarching quality feature is, for example, the strengthening of
community in democracy. The programme is intended to create empathy and
understanding among citizens for their fellow human beings. Whether this
succeeds can be deduced from surveys on whether the diversity of opinions
is reflected in the programme; and by evaluations on whether social diversity
is also reflected in the people who produce the programme.
Maximum accessibility to programming through unrestricted access is part
of this, as is the rooting of public broadcasters in society through cooperation
with other civil society institutions and dialogue with its users. To this end, ZDF
is establishing a national audience panel that will enable regular and spontaneous
exchanges between programme makers and the public. A necessary and
increasingly important feature in the organization of public service work is a
culture of error. The rapid development and adaptation times of the digital age
make this essential. Through permanent (re)steering, programme work can be
adapted to market standards, innovations and user habits and expectations.
Here, automated measurement systems as well as target agreements and reviews
in the editorial offices can help to establish regular course corrections
among the programme makers. A review system of this kind, integrating all playout channels and quality criteria at the format level, is also currently being developed at ZDF. Quality already begins in the development of new formats. Here at ZDF, we have established the possibility for editorial staff to enter into dialogue with the respective target group at an early stage. The content expectations of potential users and the dramaturgical and formal conception of a format, including possible
programme titles, can thus be tested and adapted at an early stage. At ZDF,
for example, the new development of the documentary series "Die Spur", produced
for the Mediathek, was accompanied by an elaborate dialogue format
between editors and people from the target group. Similarly, the new formats
on the ZDFkultur YouTube channel "Unbubble" were tested and evaluated online
by users at various stages of development. Quality can only develop effectively if it is found and used. Reaching as many people in the population as possible is necessary for this. This can only succeed if a suitable offer is made to all groups. This includes comprehensibly conveyed information in news and documentaries for all age groups, but also entertaining genres and formats that are particularly suited to conveying valuable content. The treatment of important social developments as feature films or series, such as the topic of the environment in the eco-thriller series "Der Schwarm," and investigation combined with satire and show in "ZDF Magazin Royale" are examples from ZDF programming. An expansion of genre diversity in the area of fiction and factual entertainment should also be mentioned in this context. The media world with its complex diversity of offerings, distribution and use, combined with the specific social mandate, requires a complex response on the part of the RR in the form of an evaluation and control system for quality
assurance. Looking at the market is no longer sufficient; the viewers and their
evaluation of the RR are moving to the centre of attention. The challenge is to
apply the appropriate instruments depending on the company, channel, or format
objective and to combine them in a communicating system for overall control.