Germany: hostility and threats

On the whole, the working environment for media professionals in Germany is good. However, journalists regularly face threats and attacks, especially when covering and researching the far-right scene. While the country’s public service broadcasters can rely on financing from licence fees, more and more newspapers are fighting for survival. The number of newspapers with their own full editorial staff is still declining.

In recent years, there have been repeated attacks against media outlets and journalists in Germany. Pictured here: the editorial offices of the Lausitzer Rundschau newspaper in Spremberg.
In recent years, there have been repeated attacks against media outlets and journalists in Germany. Pictured here: the editorial offices of the Lausitzer Rundschau newspaper in Spremberg.
In the current Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Germany has risen two places and is now ranked 11th. This is due to the fact that in 2019 the number of documented physical attacks against journalists dropped from 22 to 13, and also because in 2019 there were no right-wing populist protests with anti-media slogans on the scale of those in 2018. However, verbal attacks and attempts to intimidate journalists, chiefly on the part of far-right groups and organisations, remain a problem. According to Reporters Without Borders, a number of recent laws also pose a threat to press freedom. These include the Network Enforcement Act, which is directed against hate posts and fake news on the Internet, and the BND Act, which allows the surveillance of foreign journalists abroad by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND).

Fact checks and dialogue to build trust

The word "Lügenpresse" (lying press) was already voted the "Unwort des Jahres" (worst word of the year) in 2014 in Germany. At that time, with the outbreak of the war in eastern Ukraine, the aggression directed at journalists intensified and for the first time took the form of online comments and letters to the editor. 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.

Cooperation for the big coup

The Internet has long since also become the dominant medium in German editorial offices. At the same time, publishers and journalists are still confronted with the question of how to finance journalistic content in the face of a widespread attitude that online content should be for free. Many media have introduced paywall models and merged their print and online editorial departments. Some journalists and editorial teams have become more creative in their approach, using crowdfunding, producing content across multiple platforms, networking more closely with each other and teaming up to research across media boundaries. For example, the investigative research network formed by the public broadcasters NDR and WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung jointly published reports on the VW emissions scandal as well as the Panama Papers (2016) and Paradise Papers (2017).

Publishers, however, are trying to compensate for revenues losses through further concentration, meaning that in some regions there is now a complete lack of competition on the print media market. Jobs are being slashed, editorial departments merged, and solutions for multiple utilisation of content pursued. In 2019 there were 327 national and regional dailies, twenty weekly papers and six Sunday papers in Germany, 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. Their activities on the Internet and on mobile devices have been criticised by newspaper publishers for years. The dispute over how many and which fee-financed texts they are allowed to put online was settled in 2018. In order to set apart their content and services from those of the newspaper publishers, the public service broadcasters are to focus on video and sound content on the Internet too.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 11 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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