Is press and media freedom safe in Germany?

An interview with Michael Münz, Gustav Stresemann Institute
Michael Münz is a former Deutsche Welle journalist, now AAssistant to the director of the Gustav Stresemann Institute for political education in Bonn. He debated with ECPMF’S Jane Whyatt the state of press and media freedom in Europe at the Medientreffpunkt Mitteldeutschland and defended his views in an interview.

Is press and media freedom wobbling at the moment in Europe?

I would say it is wobbling. I would not paint it black, but in my opinion there are so many actors, who have an interest in steering (the flow of) information and to make sure that certain information gets through to people, that it becomes more and more difficult to report in a way that is independent, transparent, balanced and free. That is something that worries me a little.

Michael Münz Michael Münz (Photo: privat)

And what could be the solution?

In my view it is difficult to give a concrete solution, because there are too many factors that play a part in the current situation. There are governments that want to ensure that certain information gets through to people in their own country. There are governments that try to ensure that only certain information reaches neighbouring countries. Then there are actors that don’t belong to any government like the big internet players like Facebook or Google, who perhaps have an agenda around (paying) taxes.

I  think we should also not forget the business interests that drive the media. Or the influence of oligarchs that own the media. They also want to avoid certain themes. And we have the media themselves, and the journalists who at the end of the day are the ones who produce what we are discussing today. And if you look at the whole system, it is very difficult to say: “We must just turn this screw and then everything will get better” – I don’t believe that. To my way of thinking we must use many different approaches. For a start, we need to talk about media literacy. And before anyone shares anything, he or she should know – who wrote it? What is the source for it? Is it what is written actually correct? And how can we prove whether it is the truth? That’s media literacy and that is one aspect. Of course it is also not easy to break free from the different actors, especially those who have an economic interest in the media, because they must be financed.

Are there particular problems in the German media?

Obviously, because Germany has dropped a few places in the index published by Reporters without Borders.

Amongst other things there is the increasing number of physical attacks against journalists in Germany. And there is an increase in aggressive criticism of the German media, for example in Pegida groups where they talk about “Lügenpresse“ or “lying press“. That is definitely a specifically German phenomenon, a new thing for Germans to deal with – this aggressive attitude against journalists.

The other theme that is exercising many journalists is data retention.

New developments in German law

In October 2015 the German Parliament passed a controversial new la on data retention (Vorratsdatenspeicherung). The law obliges providers to store details of telephone calls and IP addresses for two and a half months. The geo-location of mobile phone calls has to be stored for four weeks and may not be deleted. That, at least the word “Vorratsdatenspeicherung“, a typical German construction, shows the fear that journalists have to so to say divulge their communications data without wanting to. That means, they could come under surveillance. That is because it makes it more difficult for them to put together new information. Definitely, this is a factor that makes the work of journalists more difficult in Germany.

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