Germany: attacks on the freedom of the press

When Deniz Yücel, Turkey's correspondent for the daily newspaper Die Welt, was taken into police custody in Istanbul in February 2017 and then spent a year mostly in isolation in a Turkish prison, a solidarity campaign was launched that propelled thousands of people in German cities onto the streets. But it is not just in autocratic states that the work of foreign correspondents is being hampered.

Campaign for Deniz Yücel's release from a Turkish prison.
Campaign for Deniz Yücel's release from a Turkish prison.
According to Reporters Without Borders, also in Germany press freedom has also been a cause for concern in recent years. The protection of journalists’ sources has been called into question due to sweeping Internet surveillance by intelligence agencies. Reporters Without Borders also noted a significant increase in violence against journalists in 2015 for the first time. At least 39 violent attacks were recorded that year - especially at demonstrations by the Pegida movement and its regional offshoots, at rallies by far-right groups and counter-demonstrations. The exclusion of several journalists from the G20 summit in Hamburg in August 2017 was also criticised as an attack on the freedom of the press.

The word "Lügenpresse" (lying press) had already been voted the "Unwort der Jahres" (worst word of the year) in 2014 in Germany. At that time, with the outbreak of the Ukraine war, the aggression towards journalists intensified and took the form of online comments and letters to the editor for the first time. With the refugee crisis in 2015 and the election of the far-right populist AfD in September 2017 to the Bundestag, criticism of media coverage continued to grow and also found its way into federal politics.

Although studies show that the majority of Germans still trust the media, plenty of editorial teams are trying to increase public trust - for example by introducing fact checking, voluntary corrections and by stepping up dialogue with readers and viewers. At the same time, media professionals are confronted with a growing counter public sphere on the Internet.

Publishers and journalists are also still working on how to finance journalistic content in the face of a widespread attitude that content should be for free. The debate about paywall models and the integration of print and online content continues. But journalists are also getting more creative: they are using crowdfunding, networking more closely with one other and conducting joint research across media boundaries. For example, the joint investigative research network formed by the public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung published reports on the VW emissions scandal and the Panama Papers.

The Internet has long since become the dominant medium in German editorial offices, with new forms of narrative being tested, users and readers being involved in the production process through various forms of participation, and new publication channels being sought.

Publishers, however, are trying to compensate for revenues losses through further concentration, meaning that in some regions there is simply no competition in the print market. Jobs are being slashed, editorial departments merged, and solutions for multiple utilisation of content pursued. Germany has more than 300 national and regional dailies and twenty weeklies, most of them privately owned.

Germany has both public and commercial radio and television stations, whereby the licensing fee-financed and advisory board-controlled public broadcasters have a mandate to provide a basic information and entertainment service. The combined annual budget of Germany’s public broadcasting institutions is around nine billion euros. Newspaper publishers have been criticising their online activities for years. The dispute over how many and which fee-financed articles they can put online continued in 2018.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 15 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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