International Project of the Public Union “For Human Rights”

The Decline of Europe

PreviousNext The Decline of Europe — Part III. Violation of freedom of expression

Part III. Violation of freedom of expression

Main page Choice of Germany as the initial monitoring country Background “On the Crisis of Liberal Values and Multiculturalism in Europe” Objectives, character and methodology of monitoring Part I. Crisis of multiculturalism Part II. Corruption Part III. Violation of freedom of expression Part IV. Challenges in penitentiary, law enforcement and judicial systems of Germany, drawbacks in the legislative practice Part V. Unwarranted use of force when dispersing actions of protest Part VI. Observance of human rights in the system of education of Germany Conclusion The Public Union “For Human Rights”

Experts of the Transparency International notice the strengthening of corruption tendencies in the German mass media over the past few years which leads to the appearance on pages of leading German mass media of a great quantity of planted publications. The German branch of the “Reporters without Borders” is anxious about the aggravation of the situation in the German mass media, as well as lowering of the level of freedom of information in the country. According to the report of the HRUG, five largest federal lands of Germany are still blocking the enactment of the law on the freedom of information by their land parliaments.

Futhermore, experts of the HRUG lay an emphasis on the latest tendency in mass-media which skirt around the situation with human rights in the country, while drawing attention to the situation in other countries. Harry Murray, head of the HRUG notes: “In Germany, we are asked, why we are published abroad, and not in Germany. I honestly say, we are standing up for this. If it were dependent on us, we’d gladly do that and would not appeal to international mass media”.

Steven Ellis, program director of the International Press Institute has assessed that during 6 months, from December 2011 to May 2012, in the eve of the “Eurovision” song contest in Baku, German mass media published about 200 materials harshly criticizing the Government of Azerbaijan. The German reader is unlikely to show interest in detailed coverage of countries’ developments, since Azerbaijan is not a member of the European Union and poses no strategic interest for Germany;that is why many experts and analysts, including in Azerbaijan, believe that these publications are planted. Most publications of this kind provide no room, nor opportunity for the Government of Azerbaijan to express its position on the matter. Also, these publications were biased and partial, since authors of these publications drew information from the same sources, and a priori rejected position of the criticized side. Tendencies of this kind in German media are indicative of prearranged propaganda campaigns with a view of discrediting specific governments, companies and persons.

At the same time, media experts note the selective nature of criticism in German media that focus primarily on the situation in the countries like Azerbaijan and Ukraine. In so doing, they hush up the situation with human rights in such totalitarian countries as China or Iran. Prof. Bekhmer considers that this approach may be interlinked with the strategic partnership of Germany with the two countries above.

In addition to problems arising from responsibilities of journalists and their professional ethics, there are problems arising from the freedom of expression, according to the Reporters without Borders. Condemnation of the two Leipzig journalists Arndt Ginzel and Tomas Datt demonstrates the situation with freedom of expression. These journalists have been charged with defamation for disclosing “Saxony Corruption Quagmire”.

The case of Ginzel and Datt

Leipzig journalists Arndt Ginzel and Tomas Datt conducted a journalist investigation in a high-profile corruption case in which top police officials were involved. Results of the investigation were published in the weekly “Spiegel” and “Zeit Online”, following which the Ministry of Interior of Saxony accused the journalists of making insulting allegations, defamation, and libel. These top police officials attempted to have the journalists being sentenced within the criminal procedure.

Legal proceedings against the journalists who revealed the facts of the police officers patronizing trafficking in Saxony caused a harsh criticism from the international human rights organizations. Reporter ohne Grenzen (ROG) have demanded a clear acquittal in the criminal proceedings in Dresden against two Leipzig journalists. “Anything else would be scandalous,” said ROG board spokesperson Michael Rediske in Berlin. “A conviction would hinder any future reporting of corruption affairs and thereby infringe upon freedom of the press.”

Even the opening of criminal proceedings against the freelance journalists Arndt Ginzel and Thomas Datt, who investigated the so-called “Saxony Corruption Quagmire,” was more than questionable. The co-plaintiffs did not even have the courage to pursue the supposed defaming statements under existing press laws.

Reporters without borders launched a broad campaign to protect infringed rights of the German journalists. The organization made a special statement of July 30, 2010 saying that “A good deal in the case points to the desire on the part of authorities to exert pressure on investigative journalists. This case is an attempt to unfairly criminalize journalistic practices. One of the most important functions of the media is to uncover abuses. A criminal conviction of the two journalists would have a deterrent affect on their colleagues also investigating this affair”.

Despite the broad international campaign and protests of international organizations, the court passed a verdict and the journalists were ordered to each pay a penalty of $ 6,300. Moreover, the court obliged the journalists to disclose sources of their information.

On November 13, 2012, the journalists appealed the ruling in a Dresden courtroom. Reporters without Borders has criticized the anti-constitutional decision of the German court, since the protection of sources is, according to the constitution, one of the most important elements of press freedom in Germany,

Economic pressures on media

In the light of scandalous persecutions of the German journalists, influential international organizations identified new dangerous tendency in Germany aimed at undermining the economic independence of media. Kajo Döhring, head of the German Journalists Association (DJV), said that the latest financial sanctions against journalists were quite clearly an attempt to silence journalists. In his view, the courts are using financial penalties to pressure journalists who already find themselves in a difficult economic situation.

In doing so, courts are undermining economic independence of German editions which are still independent.

In its statement devoted to the situation with freedom of media in Germany, particularly in Saxony, the German Journalists Association voiced its big concern about the crisis of democratic institutions in Saxony. “These proceedings are proof that in Saxony, apparently, the authorities have the wrong understanding of democracy”.

The case of ZDF editor-in-chief Nikolas Brender

The case of editor-in-chief of the TV-channel ZDF Nikolaus Brender was another example of erosion of democratic institutions in Germany. In 2009, the majority of the board of the German public television network ZDF – who are led by members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union – rejected the director-general’s request to renew editor-in-chief Nikolaus Brender’s contract for another five years.

“Reporters without Borders” have noticed the political context of persecution in this case, due to the fact that the ruling coalition, in particular Angela Merkel has been repeatedly criticized by ZDF The press freedom organisations believed the opposition to the extension of Brender’s contract was linked to political manipulations of the members of the board of ZDF, who were led by interests of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On November 27, 2009, “Reporters without Borders” deplored the German authorities’ actions. “Brender’s replacement against the director-general’s wishes would be a blatant breach of the principle of media freedom. ZDF’s manipulation by the ruling coalition would undermine not only the director-general, but also its journalists, who are bound by the principle of independence”.

At a time when French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi were extending government influence over the media and independent public broadcasters, this case caused a large coverage not only in Germany, but in other European States. The Brender case has become a new starting point for German authorities guided by the Sarkozy and Berlusconi's concept of “etatism” of independent TV-channels.

The case of “Strepp and ZDF”

On October 21, 2012 during the election campaign in Bavaria, Hans Michael Strepp, press-secretary of the ruling CSU (Christian Socialist), phoned the second channel of the German TV ZDF and asked editor on duty not to display information about a Congress of the Bavarian branch of the opposition Social-Democratic Party of Germany. The representative of the ruling party explained his request as being due to the fact that the first German TV-channel ARD had already decided not to place this reportage, while the reportage to be placed in the air of this TV-channel does not suit the interests of the authorities.

The information about this call to the ZDF was made public not by journalists of the TV-channel and not right after which is very important in this matter as it points the cooperation between the incumbent authorities and the leading TV channel also prior to this incident, buton the pages of the opposition newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung only on October 24.  . The information provided no specific references to specific sources, the journalist simply referred to anonymous sources in the TV-channel.

However, both the press secretary and other representatives of the ruling coalition rejected any collusion with the TV-channel, following which the press-placed sms- messages which Strepp was sending to journalists, as well as printout of his talks with TV-channel ARD correspondents. After that, suspicions fell on the TV-channel BR (Bayerische Rundfunk) which, as it turned out, acted on the instructions of the press-secretary.

The opposition Social Democratic Party charged the ruling coalition with violating the freedom of activity and independence of mass media. In its turn, the ruling coalition tried to renounce the scandal saying that this was an initiative of one functionary, while the coalition gave no instructions to TV-channels to remove disagreeable reportages.

The case of Ulrike Strauss and “BR”

Ulrike Strauss, a press-secretary of the Minister of Ecology of Bavaria Markus Söder (now Minister of Finance of Bavaria), also a member of the ruling HSU, phoned the popular TV-channel BR (Bayerische Rundfunk) as in the case of Strepp. And again as in the case of Strepp the information infiltrated into the opposition newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Official from the Ministry of Ecology did not like the aired reportage about the Minister on March 17, 2011.

An this reportage journalists summarized statements by Söder about a Bavarian nuclear power plant Isar I before and after the accident at the nuclear power plant “Fukusima” in Japan. These statements were furnished with pictures from various public actions with this politician as a participant(thus, in one of pictures  he walks barefooted on a beam; another picture shows him in a carnival TV-show; in the third picture he is photographed with a green paint on his palms). In so doing, the journalists lay major  emphasis on the fact that before Fukusima this politician advocated “peace atom” as saying that Isar I is a safe power plant; however, after the accident he began alleging that this power plant didn’t  meet all safety standards.

After  reportage was aired , a Söder’s press-secretary phoned the TV channel. She failed to talk with Editor Peter Marder, so she had to phone him home. It remains unknown, what they talked about. However, the fact is that after this talk no reportage about Söder appeared in Bayerische Rundfunk even despite that the editor intended to repeat it several times. The TV channel management said that this topic was removed from air for professional reasons only. They believed that the topic was too entertaining for news program and unfit by its format. As a result, in following editions the Söder’s topic was substituted for his statement at the Landtag about the nuclear engineering, as well as the criticism against him on the part of the opposition. 

After this incident Juergen Trittin, leader “Greens” faction in  Bundestag, declared that “over the 50-year of its office in Germany the ruling party HSU started considering the state, party and mass media to be a single whole.” The oppositionists compared attempts of pressuring mass media with actions of F. Castro’s 50-year rule.”

The case of “Deutsche Telekom”

It should be noted that the telecommunication giant Deutsche Telekom, whose largest shareholder is the Federal government of Germany, was caught in tapping telephone conversations between employees of this company and journalists from the Financial Times Deutschland, Capital and other mass media operating in Germany. Later on, the telecommunication company conceded the fact of tapping. A part of documents about serious economic problems of the company infiltrated into the press, and later on, with the purpose of establishing sources of information there was conducted field supervision, and tapping of journalists’ calls.

Finally, on May 29, 2012, Rene Oberman, chairman of board of the concern Deutsche Telekom, had to admit that under the previous management the former monopolist was engaged in shadowing journalists, including the use of information on clients stored in Deutsche Telekom.

The international organization “Reporters without Border” condemned actions of the German authorities and called to carry out impartial investigation of this crime. However, the German authorities did nothing to disclose another factor of pressuring aimed at restriction of the freedom of information.

The case of ex-president of Germany Christian Wulff

As for the situation around human rights in Germany in terms of inviolability of the fundamental rights to the freedom of activity of journalists, one cannot ignore the corruption scandal around the ex-president of Germany Christian Wulff, who directly threatened journalists from the newspaper Bild, who charged him with corruption allegations. 

This case caused a great response not only in Germany but worldwide as well. An initial cause of the scandal around Christian Wulff became suspicions on his corrupt relations with German businessman whom he and his wife kept friendly ties. An article appeared in Bild earlier December that in 2008 as Prime Minister of Lower Saxony Wulff received EURO 500,000 on preferential erms from the wife of his friend-millionaire Egon Geerkens. He spent this money to buy an apartment for his family. In January 2010, the opposition in the Lower Saxony Parliament inquired into his relations with Geerkens; however, he did not talk about the  credit. In February 2010, Wulff took a mortgage credit from BW-Bank on preferential terms at minimum interest rate. The credit agreement was revised in December 2011 only when the scandal broke out in mass media.

According to Gernot Lehr, lawyer of Wulff, on December 12, BW-Bank concluded a new agreement with Wulff that stipulated a credit interest rate at 3.62percent. A copy of documents was submitted to Wulff for signing. At the moment, Wulff was paying an official visit to Kuwait, and he returned to Berlin on December 13. However, the President was not in a hurry to sign the new agreement.  According to the bank, he signed it only on December 21. Next day, Wulff gave his official explanations on the credit. In so doing, the president tried to persuade the public that from now on he paid the credit like the rest of Germans did.

In the meanwhile, “Bild” issued an article, which told a story of money Wulff had received from Geerkens. A day before the issue, Wulff phoned December 12 to editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann. The latter did not take a receiver, so the president left him a threatening message. In case of publication of the article Wulff threatened “to rupture all contacts” and “declare war” on the publishing house Axel Springer owned by Bild. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he even promised to sue the journalists.

However, the president did not calm down and decided to act through the publishing house’s management. In particular, Wulff phoned Mathias Doepfner, head of the Springer publishing house, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung. However, Doepfner referred to the editorial staff’s independence and impossibility to influence a decision on publication of a certain material. The president went on his attempts to remedy the situation and phoned Friede Springer, the largest shareholder of the publishing house.

The social and political life of Germany and activities of independent mass media abound in numerous facts of violation of rights of Germans, their persecution, numerous attempts to infringe the freedom of information. All the above is illustrative of state’s increased interference with the sphere of information policy, and examples mentioned above provide a clear picture of the situation around mass media freedoms in Germany.

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