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Alternative media are dangerous in Germany

These days, the media institutions of several German federal states have sent letters to 13 online media. It concerns so-called information letters. It deals with violations of journalistic principles. Among the targets of the state guards are “KenFM”, the “Deutschland-Kurier” and “Flinkfeed” – the latter two bodies are close to the AfD. This was reported by “Deutschland-Funk” on Tuesday. The media companies did not want to tell the broadcaster who they sent the letters to.

However, Tobias Schmid, the head of media supervision in North Rhine-Westphalia, can be quoted as follows: One respects freedom of expression, but one “focuses on whether there are, so to speak, technical errors, sources are not clearly marked, whether quotations are not marked as such, whether research obligations have not been fulfilled and whether this possibly creates an impression that can be manipulative in public opinion, whether intentionally or inadvertently”.

Compliance with due diligence obligations

Until recently, the media institutions were only responsible for the private radio and television stations. But at the end of 2020, the media state Treaty was renewed. Since November 7, the watchers are now also allowed to check youtubers, bloggers and influencers to see whether they comply with journalistic due diligence obligations. In an opinion piece for the “FAZ” on Tuesday, Anja Zimmer, director of the media institute Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB), wrote this: “Journalism also includes careful research and source selection, obtaining statements and caution in reporting suspicions. This can be expected of anyone who regularly publishes news or political information. This is what users can expect and expect from a journalistic offer.”

Regarding the relevance of these journalistic principles, the director cannot be contradicted. However, the fact that a state agency checks whether a provider quotes correctly, identifies the sources and fulfils the research obligations is remarkable and shows that the state is expanding its scope of action beyond radio and television stations in the face of digitalisation. With the cases that have now become public, the sensitive subject of media policy becomes concrete.

Control of self-control

Until now, the principle of self-regulation applied to the press, according to the guidelines of the press council, which reflect the relevant craft rules of the press products. In addition, the legal norms, in particular the right to privacy, apply. However, this requires a plaintiff. The press council also usually only reacts when complaints are received. The state media institutions, on the other hand, are authorised to act on their own initiative and, for example, to demand the removal of content. Even with voluntary self-control, you can intervene. For example, if it does not fulfil its tasks and duties. Then the competent state media institute can demand the fulfilment of this obligation. Or it may intervene if an organ of self-control “exceeds the limits of the margin of judgement”.

Live report prohibited

The following message also fits the pattern of a controlling state: ARD wanted to broadcast a media orientation live via a new corona study. The Robert Koch Institute and the Berlin – Mitte District Office were invited to the event-a video conference. But the district office forbade live coverage. According to the ARD it justified it so:

“In our opinion, a declaration of consent would be required from all participants who would have to approve the recording and the subsequent publication of some passages if they were to be granted permission to record and publish them here. This is no longer possible. In addition, there would be open questions of data protection and possibly also of copyright, which the RKI, as the author of the presented study data, would have to examine and answer primarily.”

ARD had informed live on various occasions of the Robert Koch Institute. The German Journalists ‘Association DVJ said this at ARD’s request:" There is not a single understandable reason not to stream the press conference live. Data protection and protection of privacy are in any case no impediments at a press conference. The Bezirksamt Mitte should give up its blockade. The authority is making itself ridiculous."