The dismissal of a journalist by the police during a demonstration may be lawful, as it was decided by a German administrative court (VG Köln | no. 20 K 5427/13 | 23 April 2015).
The plaintiff is a journalist who was at a demonstration about coal mining at the end of August 2013. The representatives of the press were assigned at a certain point of a bridge above a railway line where they had a good overview of the action.
When the journalist repeatedly approached the police, the latter expressed concerns about the journalist’s location reminding him that he was not in the designated location for the other personnel belonging to the press. After this warning, the journalist was eventually forced away from the area. The police were afraid that the man may be in contact with the railway demonstrators and might spread tactical information capable of ruining the operation. The journalist thus filed a lawsuit before the administrative court, complaining that the removal had been unlawful.
The Cologne Administrative Court dismissed the complaint. It first noted that the dismissal has been an oral direction given by a police and was in accordance with statutory law (§ 8 para. 1 Act on the Police of North Rhine-Westphalia). Although constituting an interference with the fundamental rights of the journalist, the police action superseded the interests of the journalist because an actual threat to public safety or order was present.
The court considers that the necessary requirements for the police to take the action in question were fulfilled. From the conduct of the journalist the police legitimately deduced that he could have been in contact with participants of the demonstration and it could be feared that the journalist could severely impede the operation or even render it impossible.
According to the court, the dismissal of the journalist is also not inadmissible with regards to the constitutionally protected freedom of the press under the German Constitution (Grundgesetz). It is true that the application of the general police and administrative law in interventions in the freedom of the press is excluded in part by special laws. However, in the present case an appropriate functioning of the police is sufficiently important to outweigh the complainant’s activity in his capacity as a representative of the press. Besides, there was no evidence to support the view that the police only wanted to prevent undesirable reporting.