Press Law

Bild.de and FAZ.net reprimanded by German Press Council

The German Press Council has publicly reprimanded the German online newspapers, Bild.de and FAZ.net (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). In total, the Press Council’s complaints committee issued reprimands in four cases.

Bild.de and FAZ.net reprimanded by German Press Council ©-ferkelraggae-Fotolia-Fotolia_31081868_XS

Bild.de and FAZ.net reprimanded by German Press Council ©-ferkelraggae-Fotolia-Fotolia_31081868_XS

FAZ.net: breach of privacy

The online edition of the Frankfuter Allgemeine, FAZ.net received its reprimand following a report about the bishop of Limburg’s mental health. According to the newspaper, the bishop’s brother, a psychiatrist, had even given a concrete diagnosis to confidantes.

As the article did not contain a statement from the bishop or his brother on the speculations, the complaints committee of the German Press Council came to the conclusion that the newspaper had violated the bishop’s privacy.

According to the complaints committee, the press may not report on the mental health of a person without obtaining prior consent of the person concerned (Rule 8.6 of the Press Code of Practice). In addition, in spreading the unconfirmed rumours, the editorial team violated its duty of care under rule 2 of the code.

Bilde.de: discriminatory reporting

Bild.de was also publicly reprimanded by the Press Council. In this case, the complaints commission objected to discriminatory reporting.

The online newspaper reported on an Irish gypsy family from which the authorities had temporarily removed a blonde girl. The parents were suspected of having kidnapped the child. However, by the time the report was published, the child had already been returned to the family, as the suspicions had turned out to be ill-founded.

In another case, Bild.de reported that the authorities had taken custody of a girl called Maria from a Roma family in Greece.

Underneath a series of photographs accompanying the report and depicting the village, the newspaper stated: “Maria was found in this Roma village in Greece. On Tuesday a girl was rescued from settlement in Dublin. How many blonde-hair, blue-eyed girls live in Roma families – and why?”

In the complaints commission’s view, the wording of the caption underneath the photograph in the form of a leading question, as well as the term “saved” were capable of inducing prejudice against the Roma population. This violates rule 12 (discrimination) of the press code.

Violation of personality rights

The magazine, „Das Goldene Blatt“, (The Golden Pages) also received a public reprimand. The magazine re-published, without consent, a story on the circumstances of a young lady, which had already been published four years earlier.

In the meantime, however, the lady’s circumstances had changed. She was now married and no longer lived in a caravan. The re-publication of the old story had, according to the complaints commission, made the lady feel under severe stress and as a result, violated the protection of personality rights enshrined in rule 8 of the press code of conduct.

The committee stated that the magazine was under a duty of care to research the lady’s current living circumstances and to obtain her consent again, in order to publish the story.

Publication principles

A fourth public reprimand was given to the “Dithmarsche Landeszeitung” (Ditmarsch Regional Paper). The paper had published a reader’s letter in which the author trivialised state-sponsored anti-Semitism and euthanasia practiced during Nazi rule, and made an incorrect statement about Zionists.

According to rule 2.6 of the press code, those who publish readers’ letters must ensure the content also complies with the principles of the code.

The complaints committee came to the conclusion that the editorial team had failed to fulfil this obligation.

Handling of complaints

In total, the complaints commission issued 4 reprimands, 11 disapprovals and 9 warnings.

Rafaela Wilde is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE.

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