Attacks on journalists in Germany continue – but we are testing possible solutions

by Martin Hoffmann
At least twelve violent attacks, numerous threats and innumerable insults occurred since January 2016 against journalists in Germany. All of them happened at right-wing populist or extremist demonstrations. That indicates journalists in Germany are still heavily under threat as they have been in 2015, especially when reporting from political gatherings. The number of comparable incidents had increased with the rise of populist movements. One element in their propaganda is the agitation against the media they label “lying press”, as being a part of a government mouthpiece.

Most of the incidents occurred In Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Hither Pomerania and Bavaria because that is where most of the comparable gatherings were held. As currently the numbers of right-wing populist protesters is decreasing (similar to the number of migrants reaching Germany), so the opportunities for demonstrators to clash with journalists also decreases.But incidents such as the sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne or a religiously motivated terror attack in Germany could change all that in an instant.

At the same time left-wing-attacks should be considered an increasing danger to journalists reporting on demonstrations. From December to February there have been at least three attacks on reporters in Berlin and Leipzig from extremists with such a background.

The ECPMF will investigate on this topic in our follow-up study to our Fact Finding Mission “Concept of the enemy”.  Besides the danger from left-wing-extremists we will focus on the special consequences for freelancers and aim to promote a dialogue between journalists, police, politicians, NGOs and followers of the “lying-press-ideology”.

In a positive development, this dialogue has already begun. Following a dialogue between Leipzig police and journalists on March 3rd 2016, now the next step is coming up. On May 11th 2016 ECPMF organised a training course for police officers together with the police department of Leipzig. It covers the rights and responsibilities of police and journalists at demonstrations. For example, how police may intervene more efficiently, when journalists are under attack – and what journalists might (wrongly) expect from the security forces while reporting from these sites.   

To provide legal advice to the police officers the Leipzig based lawyer Igor Münter, a specialist on media law and the right of assembly will support the seminar, which was organised together with Martin Hoffmann, ECPMF’s journalist and researcher. As well as knowing basic legal conditions both sides, police and journalists should develop a better understanding of the needs and wishes of  each other’s professions.  The main topics are:

  • Freedom of movement of journalists at demonstration sites
  • Taking photos of demonstrations
  • Right to information
  • Reporting attacks at demonstration sites
  • Press ID

The issue of Press IDs caused a lot of irritation to police forces working at demonstration sites in Germany lately. This is because  there are political activists who buy there IDs in the internet but do not work as journalists (a professional title, everybody can call him/herself) but try to get access to demonstrations. The problem became obvious when one of the founders of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann (who has worn a T-Shirt with the headline “Lying-press) gained access to a trial by using a Press-ID, even though he does not work as a journalist (but owns a “media agency”). It is a problem which the journalists association of Germany (DJV) and the publishers associations are working on together with the conference of the ministers of the interior in the moment.

These different forms of dialogue already gone beyond the stage of being only a declaration of intent. The next months will show, if they can contribute to a solution of this ongoing threat against journalists in Germany.

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