Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 10:12 GMT

World Report - Germany

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2013
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, World Report - Germany, 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d59462428.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In January 2009, the government and the parliament adopted an anti-terror law extending the role and the rights of the Federal Ministry of Justice. The new law allows online searches and telecommunication surveillance. These measures of inquiry, however, can only be carried out with a court warrant in line with the constitutional court ruling and are granted only in cases of serious criminal acts.

In a similar way the law on telecommunication data retention ("Vorratsdatenspeicherung") was met with criticism. The law on "Vorratsdatenspeicherung" was an implementation of a corresponding European Union directive. It requires telecommunications companies to retain data for six months as well as transmit personal details and the location of users' calls to national security services. The directive endangers the protection of journalistic sources as well as the confidentiality of communication between journalists and informants. On 2 March 2010 the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled this regulation as being unconstitutional, a decision widely approved by RSF, journalists' associations and organisations for data protection. The German government has, however, announced that it will be drafting a new law to implement the EU directive.

Nikolaus Brender, chief editor of the public television channel ZDF, was forced to resign from his position in November 2009. His contract was not renewed after several politicians on ZDF's executive board -- mainly members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union -- questioned Brender's qualifications for the job. Brender, a widely respected journalist, gained a lot of support throughout the German media. Media and organisations such as RSF judge the refusal to extend Brender's contract as a blatant violation of public broadcasters' principle of independence as stipulated by the Federal Constitutional Court.

Due to financial pressure, the situation of media plurality and quality worsened in 2009 and 2010. There is an increased number of layoffs and a general trend of merging editorial departments is being witnessed. The large media group Gruner + Jahr is cutting jobs in various magazines in order to reduce costs. Another example of press fusion is seen with the group of media WAZ -- the source of information for three of its newspapers' national pages is primarily a single news desk of the corporate headquarters based in Essen.

Furthermore, journalists frequently have problems obtaining information from government authorities. Authorities are often slow to react to requests and demand high fees, and five German states have yet to pass their own laws on freedom of information. Then there are the discussions about a new federal law on data retention, which poses a threat to journalistic sources and deters potential whistle-blowers. On a positive note, in August 2012 a federal law was passed which offers journalists conducting investigative research better protection against police searches. On the other hand Reporters Without Borders has noted with concern a number of cases of neo-Nazi and Islamist groups threatening critical reporters.

1) Newspapers in crisis: less diversity; more concealed advertising

The trend has been evident for years now: fewer and fewer newspapers have their own full editorial staff. Instead, reporter pools and central newsdesks provide the same content to different newspapers. Competing print media have become a rarity in most regions, while the amount of content and publications commissioned by companies continues to rise.

A new trend in 2012, however, was the complete closure of several newspapers. The ~Financial Times Deutschland!, which published its last edition on December 7, was the most prominent among them. At the end of February the small but long-established Deister-Leine-Zeitung, based in Barsinghausen in Lower Saxony, closed its doors after more than 125 years. The final edition of the Abendzeitung, one of Germany's oldest tabloids, was published on September 29. In 2 October the news agency dapd filed for bankruptcy, and in November the publisher of the Frankfurter Rundschau followed suit. Whether and how the two editorial departments will be able to continue their work in the long run remains for the most part unclear. Other publishers closed down their local editing departments owing to dwindling advertising revenues and sales, or outsourced them to subsidiaries that are not bound by collective tariff agreements (NordwestZeitung, Darmstädter Echo). The WAZ media group announced in January 2013 that it was closing the editorial departments of the Westfälische Rundschau.

Moreover the reporting is increasingly being incorporated into national structures. The WAZ media group and the Dumont Schauberg media group have been setting an example for this since 2009/2010 by forming groups of editors that supply up to five independent newspapers with almost identical cover sections. In October 2012 the Axel-Springer-Verlag announced that it was teaming up the joint editorial department of the Welt-Gruppe and the Berliner Morgenpost with that of the Hamburger Abendblatt. The same is planned for the cover section editorial departments of the Wiesbadener Tagblatt, Wiesbadener Kurier and Allgemeine Zeitung (Mainz) from mid-2013.

At the same time, companies and PR agencies are investing growing sums to integrate their content into the media, with commercial content deliberately not being clearly identified as such but disguised as journalistic content or mixed up with it in a bid to boost its credibility. In view of the situation described above, this strategy has been highly successful since editors have less and less time to research and examine information. They are often forced to rely on pre-produced content that costs as little as possible. PR materials and hidden advertising are presented to readers as tests or products favoured by the editors in the form of articles or entire magazines paid for and published by the companies, but which the readers mistake for journalistic products.

2) The difficult path to transparency: access to official information

While the Freedom of Information Law (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz -- IFG) grants citizens access to government-held information at the national level, five German states have yet to pass their own freedom of information laws (Hessen, Lower Saxony, Saxony, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, where however 50 communities at least have their own freedom of information statutes). In Baden-Württemberg, the Green-Social Democratic government promised in its coalition agreement of April 2011 that it would quickly pass its own IFG, but still hasn't presented even a draft law to date. In Thuringia, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats agreed at the end of 2012 on a new IFG to replace the old one, which had expired. This was preceded by fierce debates because a first draft of the law foresaw a ban on the commercial use of official information, which would have reduced the law to absurdity for journalists. While this passage has been removed from the new draft, the law still contains numerous exceptions which prevent the publishing of official information.

Good news came from Hamburg, where a very progressive transparency law came into effect in October 2012. Under the new law the Hamburg municipal authorities are obliged to publish reports, contracts and senate agreements online automatically, rather than upon request. Furthermore, within the next two years an information register is to be created and published online which lists the salaries of all leading officials and the data of companies in which the municipal authorities have a stake.

In practice, however, the individual authorities have different approaches to implementing the laws on freedom of information. Many journalists complain of authorities being very slow to answer their requests, which hampers and in some cases entirely prevents reporting. Then there is the matter of the deliberately high fees sometimes charged by authorities. One example was the request of two journalists, who in May 2011 asked the Federal Interior Ministry for information on the sports associations' Olympic medal targets and had to pay more than 7000 euros in fees. Although the IFG stipulates a processing deadline of four weeks, the application still hadn't been completely processed 14 months later. In July 2012 the journalists sued the Interior Ministry for the information on the medal targets at the Berlin administrative court -- and won the case. (http://bit.ly/MkklYP, http://bit.ly/Qxihjt)

3) Protection of sources and data retention

On 1 August 2012, after 18 months of discussion in the German Bundestag, a press freedom law came into effect which offers journalists greater protection against state abuses in their investigative work. They can no longer be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the disclosure of secrets when they accept, analyse or publish material supplied by sources who work for the state barring cases in which there are strong reasons to suspect involvement in a criminal offence. The law was set in motion after a police search of the offices of Cicero magazine in 2005 and a trial against a free-lance journalist who had quoted from the classified files of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). However the new press freedom law protects only editorial offices from searches, not the offices of free-lance journalists. Aiding and abetting the disclosure of secrets remains a punishable offence, which means journalists who research and ask questions on the basis of vague leads may face problems.

Another risk for journalistic sources is posed by so-called data retention, or in other words the storage of call detail records from computers and mobile phones for investigational purposes. In the past the automatic retention of such data (in the absence of concrete suspicions) has led sources to break off contact with journalists for fear of being exposed. The background to the data retention policy is an EU directive of 2006 which obliges member states to store such data. The directive prompted the passing of a corresponding law in Germany, which however was declared null and void by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2010. In May 2012 the European Commission referred Germany to the European Court of Justice for failure to comply with the EU Data Retention Directive. In the debate about a new law, Reporters Without Borders calls for call records not to be automatically stored but retained only when there are concrete reasons to suspect a criminal offence.

4) "Sachsensumpf": the trial against investigative reporters

In November 2012, the verdict against the Leipzig-based journalists Thomas Datt and Arndt Ginzel in the so-called "Sachsensumpf" trial was appealed at the district court in Dresden. The judges acquitted the two journalists of defamation and in doing sent an important signal that criminal law could not be applied against journalists. Six days later, however, the public prosecutor's office in Dresden lodged an appeal against the ruling, with the result that the proceedings are still dragging on. In 2008 Datt and Ginzel had reported on alleged contacts between high-ranking officers of justice in Saxony and the red-light district in Leipzig. Leipzig's chief of police brought charges against the journalists, and in August 2010 they were ordered to pay a fine of 2,500 euros each. (http://bit.ly/W2ehZP)

5) Neo-Nazis and Islamists threaten reporters

There have been repeated cases of journalists being threatened by radical groups after publishing critical reports. In the German town of Spremberg, the editorial offices of the Lausitzer Rundschau were attacked in early May 2012 after the newspaper reported on a meeting of neoNazis. Unidentified persons sprayed the glass façade of the building with the words "Shut up, lying press!" and plastered it with large photos of a Neo-Nazi demonstration with people wearing masks and carrying torches. On the following night they smeared the building's façade with the blood and entrails of a slaughtered animal.

Several threatening videos by radical Islamists have circulated on the Internet. After television broadcasters aired images of demonstrators of the right-wing extremist Pro NRW association with Mohammed cartoons, a German Islamist living in Pakistan called for the reporters to be "hunted down, killed and taught a lesson they'll never forget!" Also in May 2012, another video made by a German-Tunisian Salafist and directed against a specifically named journalist working for the Frankfurter Rundschau surfaced. The aim was to "call attention to a person who for a long time has been fomenting hatred against Muslims and preachers", the man explained in the video and continued: "We are in possession of a considerable amount of data about you. For example we know where you live, which club you belong to, and what you mobile phone number is."

Updated 2013

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