Menue_phone
11.11.2015

Germany: Axel Springer must pay record damages for violating privacy in rape trial reports

Tobias Raab

On 30 September 2015, the Regional Court of Cologne (Landgericht Köln awarded a record compensation amount of 635,000 EUR to the former weather presenter Jörg Kachelmann in a lawsuit against the publishing house Axel Springer (Cases 28 O 2/14 and 28 O 7/14).

Axel-Springer-Passage Main entrance to the Axel-Springer-Passage in Berlin - Kreuzberg (Picture: Assenmacher, Berlin-Kreuzberg Axel-Springer-Passage Haupteingang, CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The plaintiff claimed that the publishing house had intentionally run a damaging campaign against him by publishing over 100 articles in their daily newspaper “Bild” and on their news website “bild.de”, in which they had reported about the rape trial against him. Within those articles they published passages of emails, text messages and sex life details that were not related to the trial as well as photographs and an eyewitness report of Kachelmann’s prison term. The plaintiff claimed that the contested articles had massively violated his personal rights and originally made a claim to compensation of 2.25 million EUR against Axel Springer (1.5 million EUR against the newspaper “Bild” and 750.000 EUR against the website “bild.de”).

 

The Regional Court decided that the plaintiff’s personal rights had been massively violated and that the lawsuit was partly justified, as the reports had violated his privacy, his right to informational self-determination and his rights regarding his own image. The Court stated that the contested articles had exposed and socially isolated the plaintiff by playing to the readers’ appetite for sensationalism. Even though the plaintiff was acquitted of all charges by the criminal court, he was still being stigmatised as violent and misogynistic due to the newspaper’s reporting. The Court also made clear that there had not been a justifying public interest in the publishing of those articles. Even though the reports themselves had generate enormous interest from the public  because of the plaintiff’s prominence, the defendant should have considered that people were always more aware of reports about a presumed crime than they were of later reports on someone’s innocence.

 

However, the Court stated that it had to take into consideration the chilling effects for the freedom of the press, when sanctioning press reports by imposing heavy fines. Further, the court stated that it was important for the decision regarding the amount of the fine, that the defendant did not violate the plaintiff’s personal rights intentionally. The Court also ruled out that there might have been a press campaign between the defendant and other publishing houses. Considering the competition they are in, quoting each other’s articles could not in itself be seen as a certain proof of methodical co-operation between publishing houses.

 

Affirming a violation of the plaintiff’s personal rights, but also negating some intent and any sort of press campaign, the Court did not award Kachelmann the full compensation he had claimed, but rather 635,000 EUR. This is the highest compensation awarded by any German Court so far.

 

Tobias Raab is freelancer at Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brussels.






Get in Contact

fact finding mission analysis