Western democracies, like the US, are seen as safe havens for press freedom. Yet, the ongoing AP scandal suggests that surveillance of journalists is no taboo. What is the situation in Germany?
There had been a serious information leak, causing nothing less than a threat to US citizens – that’s how US Secretary of Justice Eric Holder justified US government surveillance of Associated Press (AP) journalists. Surveillance in this case meant the collection of telephone records, allowing for the localization of the journalist’s confidential sources.
Among the media, this has caused considerable outrage – both in the US and abroad, including Germany.The Germanjournalist’s association (DJV) has condemned the surveillance as an “act against freedom of the press.” After all, without the – often anonymous – sources, investigative reporting would be close to impossible. At the same time, however, there is little fear that German journalists might be in for something similar.
What is a “threat to security”?
“For Germany, this is something unthinkable,” Michael Rediske, the head of the Berlin-Brandenburg branch of the journalist’s association told DW.
The Federal Constitutional Court, being the warden of Germany’sconstitution where press freedom is enshrined,sees thisas afar too important value, Rediske said.
As an example, hementioned the so-called “Cicero Affair:” In 2005, German law enforcement searched the offices of “Cicero” magazine after it had published information form a confidential government file. Following the search, the publication filed a lawsuit – and won.
In the case of the United States,there isa concern for terror andthe looming threat it poses. Thisplays an important role when dealing with issues of press freedom, said Wolfgang Donsbach of Dresden Technical University (TU). While there is no way to justify the government taking up such measures, it is at least partly understandable, he explained.
To justify measures like these,they are oftenlinked to security issues. It’s a point that Rediske, who also heads the German section of Reporters without Borders, doesn’t want to accept. “If its about preventing a crime, journalists will be reasonable enough not to publish information. But to simply classify information as ‘relevant to security’ is a well-known game the authorities play,” Rediske said.
What is an attack on press freedom
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Press freedom – and its limitations