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Germany: On the admissibility of personally-identifying information in reporting about ongoing investigation proceedings

Cristina Bachmeier

The Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht - OLG) Karlsruhe ruled on 2 February 2015 (case no. 6 U 130/14) that the interest of the public to be informed is justifying a news report about an ongoing investigative procedure which might lead to the identification of the person reported about.

The plaintiff operates a dental practice in “town A”. The dental practice has an online presence, which includes several commercial slogans for the practice. The dentist was under investigation for aggravated assault, because he had supposedly pulled teeth and had replaced those teeth with implants, while it was not medically indicated to pull those teeth and replace them with implants. The dentist was under investigation for 35 separate cases. . The defendant is a newspaper publisher who, in 2014, has published several media reports on the investigation for aggravated assault against the dentist, where the plaintiff (dentist) was described as a “dental practitioner in town A”. Furthermore, the journalist made references in his articles to advertising slogans from the dentist’s website and he published personal details of the dentist, which could be found on the website of the dental practice.

The doctor sued for an injunction at the court of first instance, to  prohibit further publications of the newspaper about him, by Court order. He argued that the articles violated his general right to privacy, because he could easily be identified, because of all the personal details published about him in the articles. The Regional Court of Karlsruhe dismissed his action. The Court stated that, even assuming that the plaintiff was easily identifiable because of the reproduced advertising slogans from his website, a violation of his general right to privacy (Art. 1 Abs. 1 in conjunction with Art. 2 Abs. 1 GG) was not unlawful, but justified by the freedom of the press (Art. 5 Abs. 1 S. 2 GG). The court argued further, that the disputed journalistic reporting is neither directly naming the plaintiff nor contains a prejudgment. This form of reporting aims precisely to those readers whose interest is big enough so that they are willing to search for additional information in order to identify the plaintiff. With regard to the specific factual circumstances and numerous reports of incidents registered by the police against the plaintiff, there was a special interest of the public, which reinforces the constitutionally assigned function of the press to impart information, said the court.

The OLG Karlsruhe came to the conclusion that the defendant has complied – under the circumstances of the individual case – with the necessary duty of diligence required by the (press) law in cases of reporting based on suspicions.

Thus, the reporting was lawful and the injunctive relief of the plaintiff was ruled out.

Cristina Bachmeier, LL.M., is a research associate at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.


The decision of the OLG Karlsruhe is available in German here.



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