In the version published on 24 January 1965 (GVBI = Law Gazette of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg p.15), as amended on 1 December 1969 (GVBI, p.233), 9 December 1974 (GVBI p. 381), 1 December 1980 (GVBI p.361) and 5 February 1985 (GVBI p. 62).
In the version published on 9 September 1965, as last amended on 8 May 1998
Translation provided by the Inter Nationes and reproduced with kind permission.
Introduction to the Press Laws by Burkhard Schaffeld and Lutz Tillmanns
Table of Contents
Article 1 Freedom of the Press
Article 2 Freedom of license
Article 3 Public role of the Press
Article 4 The Press’s right of access to information
Article 5 (repealed)
Article 6 The Press’s duty of thoroughness
Article 7 Printed matter
Article 8 Imprint
Article 9 Personal requirements of the responsible journalist
Article10 Definition of remunerated items published
Article11 Right of reply
Article19 Responsibility under Criminal Law
Article 20 Criminal violation of Press regulations
Article 21 Contraventions of rules
Article 22 (repealed)
Article 23 Statute of limitations
Article 24 Closing regulations
German Press Council Press Code with guidelines for editorial work as of 1996
Figure 1 – Press Code
Figure 2 – Press Code
Figure 3 – Press Code
Guideline 3.1 – Correction
Figure 4 – Press Code
Guideline 4.1 – Research
Figure 5 – Press Code
Guideline 5.1 – Confidentiality
Figure 6 – Press Code
Figure 7 – Press Code
Figure 8 – Press Code
Guideline 8.1 – Publication of names and photographs
Guideline 8.2 – Resocialisation
Guideline 8.3 – Illness
Guideline 8.4 – Suicide
Guideline 8.5 – Opposition and escapes
Guideline 8.6 – Anniversary dates
Figure 9 – Press Code
Figure 10 – Press Code
Figure 11 – Press Code
Guideline 11.1 – Inappropriate portrayal
Guideline 11.2 – Reporting on acts of violence
Guideline 11.3 – Accidents and catastrophes
Guideline 11.4 – Coordination with the authorities/news embargo
Guideline 11.5 – Criminal memoirs
Guideline 11.6 – Drugs
Figure 12 – Press Code
Guideline 12.1 – Reports on crimes
Figure 13 – Press Code
Figure 14 – Press Code
Guideline 14.1 – Medical or pharmaceutical research
Figure 15 – Press Code
Guideline 15.1 – Invitations and gifts
Figure 16 – Press Code
Guideline 16.1 – Publication of reprimands
1. The constitutional foundations of the freedom of the press
(1) Everybody has the right freely to express and disseminate their opinions orally, in writing or visually and to obtain information from generally accessible sources without hindrance. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting through audiovisual media shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
(2) These rights are subject to limitations embodied in the provisions of general legislation, statutory provisions for the protection of young persons and the citizen’s right to personal respect.
The Federal Constitutional Court has consistently found that this basic right is of fundamental significance for the freedom of society. According to the Federal Constitutional Court “a free press, independent of the state and not subject to censorship, is one of the fundamental elements of the democratic state; in particular, a free, regular political press is indispensable for modern democracy. In a representative democracy the press is both a constant link and an instrument of supervision between the people and its elected representatives in parliament and government.”
The fundamental right of the freedom of the press comprises two components. On the one hand, it gives members of the press a right of defence against state intervention. At the same time Article 5 of the Basic Law guarantees the institution of the “free press”. Wherever the area of application of an item of legislation touches upon the press, the state is obliged to take into account the fundamental principle of the freedom of the press. The free founding of organs of the press, free access to professions in the press and public authorities’ duty to provide information are principal consequences of this.
Article 5 para. 1 of the Basic Law protects the entire activity of the press, from the procurement of the information up to its dissemination, provided that it serves journalistic purposes.
2. Protected rights
The legal order of the Federal Republic of Germany has equipped the press with a number of special protected rights. The prohibition of special taxes or the introduction of other special measures against the press deserve particular mention here. No member of the press may be forced to join a press professional organisation. Furthermore, profession jurisdiction of the press by the press equipped with sovereign force is not permissible. Free access to professions in the press is guaranteed. The products of the press can only be confiscated under special circumstances. In this connection the right of members of the press to refuse to testify must also be mentioned. Anyone involved in the creation or publication of a periodical printed work (publishers, editors, news editors, journalists, printers, etc.), may refuse to testify on the character of the author, the submitter or the guarantor of a publication in the editorial part of the printed matter. The Staff Representation Act, which governs the internal co-determination of employee representation within a company, only applies to a certain extent in the press. The media are privileged in the area of data protection.
3. Limits on interventions in the freedom of the press
Even though according to Article 5 para. 2 of the Basic Law freedom of the press is not guaranteed without limitation but is rather limited by the provisions of the general laws, the provisions of laws for the protection of youth, and by the right to inviolability of personal honour, the limitation of a constituent right of a free and democratic society is not placed at the disposal of Federal or Land legislators.
The legislator may not in any way impinge upon the substance of press freedom. In a fundamental judgement by the Federal Constitutional Court we read:
“This basic definition of freedom of opinion means that it would not be consistent to leave any qualification of the scope of this particular basic right to a simple legal act. The limiting effect on basic rights of these general laws must in turn be seen in the light of the significance of these basic rights and must be interpreted in such a way that their specific value is retained at all cost. The mutual relationship between basic right and general law is therefore not to be seen as a unilateral limitation of the validity of basic rights by general laws; on the contrary, there is a reciprocal effect in that, while the wording of general laws places limits upon basic rights, they in turn must be interpreted in the light of the validity of these rights in a liberal, democratic society, thus themselves being limited in their power to limit basic rights.”
Therefore, if this basic right of freedom of the press clashes with the provisions of a general law, contrary to the wording of Article 5 para. 2 of the Basic Law the barrier does not have any absolute priority ahead of the basic right of Article 5 para. 1 of the Basic Law. Much rather, consideration between the two contradictory legal interests must be made, bearing particular account of the special circumstances (of the individual case).
4. Protection against unjustified attacks by the press
The person affected is not completely defenceless against unjustified attacks by the press.
a) Press Council
In this connection, first of all the German Press Council should be mentioned, a self-monitoring body of members of the press, which has the task of correcting defects in the press system. Any member of the public who thinks he has been unfairly treated by the press can make a complaint to the council. The decision on whether to pursue this petition is then made by the Council’s Complaints Committee.
In addition, the Press Council has drawn up a “Press Code” containing the generally recognised rules of the profession. It has also made a large number of recommendations for press practice. These are documented in the “Guidelines for editorial activity”, which were designed to complement the “Press Code”. Among the 16 journalistic principles making up the Press Code is, for example, “providing the general public with accurate information”. This is described as the overriding principle of the press. News and assertions that subsequently turn out to be incorrect are to be promptly rectified in an appropriate manner by the publication involved.
The publishing of unfounded allegations is “contrary to journalistic decorum”. Respect for the personality, private life and intimate sphere of persons is one of the major professional duties of the press. Thus, such details may only be mentioned if private behaviour touches upon public interests.
b) The legal course
Legal channels are also open to those involved. People have the right to publish a reply to assertions of facts made by the press, and this right can be enforced by the courts. This reply must be printed regardless of its verity should the legal conditions be fulfilled. In addition, if the press assertions turn out to be untrue, the victim may demand that they be withdrawn. In the particular case of libellous press remarks the law allows the victim the right to take action to restrain interference. This right, unlike those of reply and withdrawal, not only applies to assertions of facts but also to expressions of opinion. In serious libel cases, according to the law, there is also the option of civil proceedings to secure damages.
Should a press allegation constitute a criminal act, for example libel or malicious defamation (üble Nachrede), the victim, in addition, enjoys protection under penal law. In this regard politicians are strongly protected against damage to their honour. According to Article 187a of the German Penal Code defamation of character, whether in public, at a meeting or by distributed written means, of a person in political life, for reasons connected with his or her position, and which may seriously impede the exercise of that position, shall be punished by imprisonment.
An unlimited right to publish is also contrary to Article 131 of the German Penal Code. According to this anyone who distributes “any writings which incite to racial hatred or which depict cruel or other inhumane acts of violence against persons in such a manner as to glorify or deny the wrongfulness of such acts of violence” is committing a criminal act.
Other laws that limit the freedom of the press are contained in “political” penal law. These are intended to protect against the betrayal of peace (incitement to an offensive war), high treason and endangering the democratic state, betraying the country and endangering external security (by betraying state secrets). Publications that fulfil these conditions are not allowed.
5. Land Press Laws
The Federal Republic of Germany is a federal state. Legislative competence is, in principle, divided between the Federal legislator and the Land legislator. In this connection the main focus of legislative competence for the press is with the Land legislator. Under Article 75 subpara. 2 of the Basic Law the competence of the state is limited to issuing decrees on framework legislation on the general legal conditions of the press. However, the state has as yet not used this power. Press law is therefore largely governed by the Land press laws of the individual Federal Länder. These not only govern the organisation of the press, they also contain key questions concerning press law.
In Western Germany the Land press laws were created between 1964 and 1966. When, in 1990, the two parts of Germany were united, Land press laws were soon adopted in the new Federal Länder. The codifications in Western Germany were the model for the Land press laws in the new Federal Länder.
The Land legislators wanted to achieve three goals with the Land press laws. First of all they wanted to create contemporary press legislation. Above and beyond this, legal unity should be created and ensured for the field of the press within the Federal Republic of Germany. Finally, the spirit of freedom in the Basic Law, as it has taken shape in Article 5 of the Basic Law and the jurisdiction of the Federal Constitutional Court, should also be reflected in the Land press laws.
The most important provisions of the Land press laws are:
a) Public duty of the press
First of all the public duty of the press is one of the most important provisions of the Land press laws. In all of the Land press laws this means that the press exercises a public duty in gathering and disseminating the news, taking up stances, criticising or assisting in forming opinions in any other way.
b) The press’s right to information
All of the Land press laws give the press a right to information from authorities. This right may also be brought before the courts. The Federal Republic of Germany, thus, is one of the few countries in the world with legislation that recognises such a right to legal information from the authorities in a law.
c) The press’s duty of thoroughness
The obligation to exercise thoroughness runs parallel with special rights of the press. This represents a commitment to report as truthfully as possible. Every journalist has the duty to check the facts at his disposal for truth, content and origin, with a professional thoroughness to be expected of a conscientious reporter. Above and beyond this the press is obliged to keep printed matter free of any criminal content and not to distribute printed matter containing matter of a criminal nature.
The obligation to publish an imprint is one of the most important regulatory duties of the press. The detailed information that has to be presented there, is to enable authorities and third parties to identify the person responsible for the content of the printed work and to prosecute them under criminal, civil or press law. That is why each and every published work must bear the name and address of the printer and publisher; periodicals must additionally carry the name and address of the responsible journalist or editor.
e) Duty staff editor
It is the responsibility of the duty staff editor to check the legality of the entire material intended for publication and to prevent publication of culpable material. It is required of the duty staff editor to acquire personal knowledge of the contents of all matter for publication within his specialised field. It is an infringement of his duty even to delegate this important responsibility to other persons.
f) Classification requirement
The credibility of the press rests on the principle by which clear distinction is made between a newspaper’s textual content and advertising columns. Advertisements must, therefore, be clearly marked if their nature as an advertisement is not already recognisable from a first glance thanks to their placement or design.
g) Right to reply
Anyone who has been affected by a claim listed in the press is entitled to have a reply printed. In this connection it is not at all important whether the claim in the press is true or untrue. The right to reply is also permissible against true claims. The newspaper publisher is obliged to print the reply without comments or omissions in the next issue to be printed after receipt of the reply. The reply must appear in the same part of the printed work and in the same print as the text being referred to.
6. The German Press Council
The freedom of the press anchored in the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany includes the independence and freedom of information, of the expression of opinions and criticism. Publishers, editors and journalists must be aware of their responsibility to the public and their obligation for the standing of the press in their work. They perform their journalistic tasks to the best of their abilities and consciences, uninfluenced by personal interest and motives that have no connection to the matter in hand.
The journalistic principles of the German Press Council, which was founded in 1956, define the professional ethics of the press. This comprises the duty of maintaining the standing of the press and standing up for the freedom of the press within the framework of the constitution and the laws in line with the constitution.
a) Legal basis of the press’s self-monitoring
The constitutional framework for the press’s self-monitoring and, thus, for the work of the German Press Council is provided by Article 5 para. 1 of the Basic Law with its individual guarantees as regards basic rights. It ensures freedom to express opinions and freedom of information, guarantees the freedom of the press, broadcasting and film and expressly emphasises the prohibition of censorship.
These “basic rights of communication” are countered by other legal positions on basic rights of the constitution. We only need to think of the principle of human dignity contained in Article 1 of the Basic Law, the general right to personal freedom in Article 2 of the Basic Law and the right for self-determination as regards the information derived from this by the Federal Constitutional Law, which is also reflected in current data protection legislation. But the basic constitutional organisation as well as the democratic principles restrict the freedom to express opinions and freedom of the press. General laws, that may have been passed to protect these other legal interests, limit the basic rights of communication. Here, we only need to mention the example of protection of honour and state security crimes in the Penal Code, copyright law, labour, cartel, taxation law and, naturally, Articles 12, 823 and 1004 of the Civil Code. As “general laws” they, however, must be in line with the requirements of Article 5 para. 2 of the Basic Law, i.e. special laws limiting the press would be contrary to the constitution. The Federal Constitutional Court has issued various judgements on the requirements of basic rights and has set up a strict catalogue of criteria. According to this, general laws, too, must always be worded and applied in such a way that they ensure sufficiently strong implementation of the basic rights of communication.
Each of the Land press laws emphasises the basic principle of the freedom of the press. In each of the introductory provisions they specify: “The press is free.” All of the Land press laws contain provisions that are of fundamental significance for the understanding of a voluntary self-monitoring by the press. According to these, special measures of any type that restrict the freedom of the press are prohibited and professional organisations of the press with compulsory membership and a jurisdiction of the press by the press equipped with sovereign force are not permitted. Nevertheless, the principle of professional self-monitoring of the press system has been familiar for a long time. Effective self-monitoring makes third party control by the state superfluous and, thus, ensures the freedom of the press from the state. If the professions of the press ensure order in their own ranks themselves, there is no need for the state to intervene. Self-monitoring is better than state monitoring.
This is where the task and the work of the German Press Council begin. The work of this institution of voluntary self-monitoring and the implementing force of its decisions – also for the accommodation of the right to personal freedom as well as the procedural guarantees within the framework of the complaint procedure – are now generally accepted. The complaint’s work related to individual cases does not only mean high practical competence in the solution of conflict issues relating to media ethics, it also thus indirectly supports the players in setting up the professional ethic. Precisely this is an advantage of the legal structure of the German Press Council; that it takes effect not on the basis of supervision on high but by means of coordination. Thus, the German Press Council is an institutionalised organ of the major associations of the press under private law, the powers of which are based on the image of the qualified private critic and to which every individual can appeal.
b) Historical development
A short excursion in history will make it easier to understand the work of the German Press Council. During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) the Reich Ministry of the Interior submitted a draft law that provided for a Reich Press Chamber with subordinated Land Press Chambers which would be organised under public law and be subject to the legal supervision of the Reich Minister of the Interior or the Land Minister of the Interior. The draft failed due to opposition from those concerned and in 1927 it was agreed to set up a disciplinary order for the Reich Association of the German Press, which, however, did not do any convincing or effective work.
In the Editor’s Law of 1933 the Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels, brought the entire German press into line (Gleichschaltung). The associated total state and party control during the National Socialist period and the negative experience with this system were key motives for the above-mentioned guarantees in the Basic Law.
In 1952 the Federal Ministry of the Interior submitted a draft Federal Press Act, which provided for the establishment of a self-monitoring instance in the form of a body under public law. Due to the planned state monitoring this draft met with tremendous opposition from the journalist and publisher associations and was not carried through. Following the example of the British Press Council of 1953, the journalist and publisher associations formed the German Press Council on 20. November 1956.
c) Structure of the German Press Council
The German Press Council is a non-profit association (eingetragener Verein, e.V.) in accordance with the Civil Code and thus a legal person under private law. Its structures and duties are governed in its statutes of 25 February 1985. According to these, the “Trägerverein des Deutschen Presserats e.V.” (association of sponsors of the German Press Council) is a conglomerate of the publisher and journalist associations [Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger e.V. (BDZV), Verband Deutscher Zeitschriftenverleger e.V. (VDZ), Deutscher Journalistenverband e.V. (DJV) and Industriegewerkschaft Medien, Druck und Papier, Publizistik und Kunst/Fachgruppe Journalismus (IG Medien)] with the purpose of standing up for the freedom of the press in Germany and of maintaining the standing of the German press. Two members from each of the four sponsor organisations belong to the members’ assembly. The members’ assembly primarily concerns itself with the legal, financial and personnel decisions of the organisation.
As a specialist body, the association of sponsors maintains the plenary of the German Press Council (the actual “Press Council”) as well as the complaints committee with 10 members elected from the 20 member plenary. All of the bodies of the German Press Council are voluntarily staffed by publishers and journalists for a period of two years in office upon the appropriate proposal of the sponsor organisation. The chair of the bodies changes annually among the four organisations. Unlike various press self-monitoring bodies (Ombudsman in the Scandinavian countries, Dutch Press Council or the English Press Complaints Commission), this is a pure self-monitoring institution, i.e. no external expert is the chairman of the German Press Council and its bodies.
d) Duties of the German Press Council
According to Article 9 of the statutes of the German Press Council, it has the following duties:
– to determine irregularities in the press and to work towards clearing them up,
– to stand up for unhindered access to the sources of news,
– to give recommendations and guidelines for journalistic work,
– to stand against developments which could endanger free information and formation of opinions among the public and
– to investigate and decide on complaints about individual newspapers, magazines or press services.
The Press Council expressly does not involve itself with two areas of duties: with issues relating to tariff policy and with competitive law.
In performing its duties the Press Council issues recommendations and guidelines for journalistic work. At this point, the journalistic principles, the so-called Press Code, and the guidelines for journalistic work must be pointed out. Since its foundation in 1956, the Press Council has continuously developed a catalogue of guidelines that are to serve editors and publishers. The question as to whether a new guideline is to be drawn up for a specific problem, frequently comes up in the course of a complaint procedure. This body of rules is thus “case-law” in the real sense. In recent times there were several specific occasions when the the guidelines were expanded and updated. For example, issues that occurred within the framework of complaints work where the permissibility of stating people’s names when reporting on crimes, detection and criminal procedures (Figures 8 and 13 of the Press Code) became topical and were answered conclusively. Furthermore the German Press Council further defined the glorification of violence and the prohibition of discrimination (Figures 11 and 12 of the Press Code) as well as the prohibition of bribes (Figure 15 of the Press Code). Thus, “common sense” has been made part of journalistic work which naturally cannot be included in legal provisions.
The key task of the Press Council is, thus, to investigate and to decide on individual complaints on publications or happenings in the press. This is done on the basis of a complaints order that ensures that everybody can turn to the Press Council free of charge in order to receive help from there. Every year between 400 and 500 people, associations, institutions, etc. write to the German Press Council seeking help and making complaints. They are complaining about publications due to possible infringements against the duties of care, due to search methods by journalists or due to the infringement of the right to personal freedom, for example within the framework of court reporting. Often questions in connection with the publication of readers’ letters or satirical contributions have to be answered and investigated as to whether contribution contains discriminatory information on groups of people.
Approximately two thirds of all complaints can be dealt with at an early stage without a formal decision by the complaints commission. Mostly the central office of the German Press Council can successfully mediate between the parties concerned. In justified cases the complaints commission of the German Press Council issues editorial notes, censures and – in the case of severe journalistic infringements – public reprimands. The latter have to be published in the publication complained about within the framework of a voluntary undertaking. Thus, for example, in 1966 the Press Council reprimanded a young persons’ magazine because of the use of non-authentic photographs, although it had pointed out the documentation value of the photos to the readership. When reporting about cases of suicide the press should be reticent. Since a regional newspaper breached this principle and printed the name of the person concerned and published a photograph of the corpse, it was castigated. Furthermore, a satirical magazine received a reprimand because of a publication of a photomontage that upset the dignity of the person concerned.
These measures of the German Press Council, in the event of infringements of the Press Code being detected, in particular censures and reprimands, are a form of the “peer scolding” that is particularly unpopular in publishing houses and newspapers and which is to be avoided at all costs.
The Senate hereby announces the following Law which has been adopted by the City Parliament:
(1) The Press is free. It is committed to the basic order of freedom and democracy.
(2) The freedom of the Press is subject only to the limitations directly admissible under Basic Law and, in its framework, to those laid down in this Law.
(3) Special measures of whatsoever kind which adversely affect Press freedom are forbidden.
(4) Professional organisations of the Press with compulsory membership or any internal jurisprudence of the Press with sovereign powers are not admissible.
(5) The Press is also subject to those laws which apply to all.
Press activities, inclusive of the establishment of a publishing enterprise or any other firm in the Press business, may not be rendered dependent upon any form of registration or admission.
The Press fulfils a public function in particular in that it procures news and disseminates it, declares opinion, voices criticism or participates in the process of opinion-forming in other manners.
(1) Public authorities are obliged to impart to representatives of the Press and of radio/TV information of service to them in the fulfilment of their public function.
(2) No claim to access to information exists if:
1. as a result, the proper execution of pending proceedings could be prevented, obstructed, delayed or jeopardised or if
2. rules of secrecy stand in the way or if
3. a superior public interest or a private interest worthy of protection would be injured as a result.
(3) General decrees forbidding a public authority to give information either to the Press as such or to that of a particular persuasion or to a particular periodical journal or newspaper are not admissible.
(4) The publisher of a newspaper or periodical can demand of public authorities that their official announcements be made available for use by him no later than to his competitors.
The Press shall use all necessary thoroughness in checking the content, origin and truth of all news prior to its publication. The obligation to maintain all printed matter free of punishable content (Article 19) remains unaffected.
(1 ) Printed matter under the terms of this Law comprises all printed material, intended for distribution, manufactured by means of printing press or other reproduction process for mass production, spoken sound recordings, video carriers and printed or written music with text or explanations.
(2) Printed matter furthermore includes the mimeographed material through which news agencies, newsletters, matrix circulars and similar enterprises provide the Press with material in words, images or in similar fashion. Also to be defined as printed matter are communications supplied by auxiliary Press editorial enterprises, regardless of the technical manner in which they are supplied.
(3) Not subject to the regulations of this law governing printed matter are:
1. official printed matter insofar as it contains only official communications,
2. material only intended for the purposes of commerce and transport, of domestic and social life, such as forms, price lists, printed advertising matter, family advertisements, business, annual and administrative reports, etc., as well as electoral ballot papers.
(4) Periodical printed matter comprises newspapers and periodicals and other printed material appearing in regular sequence – including irregular sequence – at intervals of no more than six months.
(1) All printed matter appearing within the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg must contain the name of the party or firm and address of the printer and of the publisher; when the latter are identical, the name of the author or publisher must be included.
(2) Periodical printed matter must furthermore bear the name and address of the journalist responsible for its contents. If more than one journalist is responsible, the imprint must contain the details of each of them. This must stipulate for which part or specialised field each individual is responsible. The party responsible for the advertisement section must be named; here, regulations governing the journalist responsible for contents apply.
(3) Newspapers and allied newspapers which regularly print whole pages of the editorial section of the “parent” organ in their original entirety shall also name in their imprints the journalist responsible for the section copied and the publisher responsible.
(1) Not qualified to be employed as responsible editor or journalist is anyone who:
1. has his permanent residence outside the area of jurisdiction of the Basic Law;
2. as a result of a court judgment does not possess the liberty to hold public office, gain rights from public elections, or to vote on public matters;
3. has not yet attained the age of 18 years;
4. is not legally competent, or is only partially so.
(2) The regulations contained in Paragraph 1, No. 3 and No. 4 do not apply to printed matter published by juveniles or for juveniles.
(3) On application, the Minister of the Interior can waive the requirements of Paragraph 1, No. 1.
If the publisher or the party responsible for a periodical Press organ has received remuneration for an item published or has requested or been promised such, the item concerned must be clearly marked with the word “Advertisement” if not already generally recognisable as an advertisement by virtue of placement or form.
(1) The responsible journalist or editor and the publisher of a periodical Press organ are obliged to publish a counter-version or reply by the person or party affected by an assertion of fact printed in the organ in question. This obligation extends to all subeditions of the organ in which the assertion of fact has been made.
(2) No obligation to print a reply or counter-version exists if the reply or counter-version is of inappropriate volume. The reply or counter-version is regarded as being of appropriate volume if it does not exceed the volume of the text to which objection has been raised. The reply or counter-version must be confined to factual assertions and must contain nothing of a punishable nature. It must be given in writing and must bear the signature of the injured party or legally recognised representative. The injured party or his representative can demand publication only if the reply is communicated to the responsible editor or publisher without delay, but at the latest within three months after publication of the item to which objection has been taken.
(3) The reply must be printed – in the same type of print as the text to which objection was taken, without additions or omissions and in the same section of the paper – in the next edition following receipt of the reply which has not yet been completed for publication; it must not appear in the form of a reader’s letter. Publication is free of charge. Anyone who comments on the reply in the same edition must confine himself to factual comment.
(4) Ordinary legal channels are open to anyone wishing to appeal against rejection of a claim to right of reply. At the request of the allegedly injured party, a court can order the editor and publisher responsible to publish a counter-version as outlined in Paragraph 3. The regulations of Civil Trial Procedure with regard to procedure for temporary injunction shall apply in the case of these proceedings. There shall be no compulsion to bring evidence of jeopardy of entitlement.
(5) Paragraphs 1 to 4 do not apply to truthful reports on public meetings of the law-giving organs at Federal, Land or local authority level or of courts of law.
(1) The culpability for criminal offences perpetrated by means of published material is determined by the terms of general criminal law.
(2) If, through published matter, an offence is constituted under the terms of a criminal law and if
1. in the case of periodical publications, the responsible editor or journalist or,
2. in other publications, the publisher
knowingly or negligently violates his duty to maintain published matter free of punishable content, he shall be liable to punishment or imprisonment for up to one year or a fine insofar as he is not already punishabie as perpetrator or participant under the terms of para. 1.
Imprisonment for up to one year or a fine can be imposed on whoever
1. as publisher, appoints as responsible editor or journalist a person who does not meet the requirements of Article 9,
2. declares himself to be responsible editor or journalist while not fulfilling the requirements of Article 9,
3. as responsible editor or journalist or as publisher – in a combined publishing house as author or publisher – of a publication with punishable content, contravenes the regulations governing imprints (Article 8).
(1) A breach of regulations is committed by anyone who knowingly or negligently
1. as responsible editor or journalist or as publisher – as author or publisher in the case of a combined publishing concern – contravenes the rules governing imprint (Article 8) or, as entrepreneur, distributes material in which the details (imprint) prescribed by Article 8 are wholly or partially not contained.
2. as publisher or as responsible party (Article 8 Par. 2 Sent. 4) does not render any matter published in return for remuneration recognisable as an advertisement (Article 10).
(2) Furthermore, anyone negligently causing the elements of an offence as defined in Article 20 also acts in contravention of regulations.
(3) The deliberate contravention of regulations may be punished by a fine of up to ten thousand Deutsche Mark,or up to five thousand Deutsche Mark in case of negligence.
(1) The prosecution of criminal offences committed through the publication or distribution of published matter of punishable content or which otherwise constitute the elements of a criminal definition under this law become statute-barred in one year in the case of crimes and in six months in the case of breaches of regulations.
(2) Prosecution of offences defined in Article 21 becomes statute-barred in three months.
(3) The statute of limitations commences with the publication or distribution of the published material. If the printed matter is published or distributed in parts or is revised, the statute of limitations recommences with the publication or distribution of the further parts or editions.
(1) This law shall take effect on 1 April 1965, except for Article 23, which shall take effect on 1 October 1965.
(2) At the same time the Reich Press Law of 7 May 1874 (Reich Law Gazette, p. 65) is rescinded.
(3) The Law concerning the State Treaty on the establishment of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk concluded on 10 June 1955 (Hamburg Law Gazette, p. 197) is not affected.
DONE at Hamburg this 29th day of January 1965.
Respect for the truth, observance of human rights and accurate informing of the public are the overriding principles of the press
The informing of the general public about events and happenings which, because of their importance, weight and significance, are of general interest and importance for political formation of public opinion and intent, must not be restricted or prevented by exclusive agreements or protective measures with the informant. Those who seek the monopoly of information prevent the rest of the press from acquiring the use of this import and thus impinge upon the freedom of information.
It is a matter of journalistic fairness, serves the citizen’s right to freedom of information, and upholds the equality of opportunity of democratic parties, when newspapers and magazines, in their reports on elections, also include opinions which are not those shared by themselves.
Press releases compiled by authorities, parties, associations, clubs or other interest groups must be clearly defined as such when they are published without being edited.
The publication of specific news and information in word and picture must be carefully checked in respect of accuracy in the light of existing circumstances. Its sense must not be distorted or falsified by editing, title or picture captions. Documents must be accurately reproduced. Unconfirmed reports, rumours or assumptions must be quoted as such. When reproducing symbolic photographs, it must be clear from the caption that these are not documentary pictures.
The German Press Council recommends news agencies, newspapers and magazines to give the number and representative nature of persons approached, and to state the time when the poll took place, as well as the commissioner, when publishing findings by public opinion-poll institutes.
If there is not commissioner, it should be pointed out that the poll was carried out on the private initiative of the institute itself.
Should an illustration, in particular a photograph, be taken to be a documentary picture by casual reader, although this is not the case, the situation must be clarified. For this reason,
– substitute or auxiliary illustrations (i.e. similar motive, different time, or different motive at the same time etc.),
– symbolic illustrations (reconstructed scene, artificially reconstructed events to accompany text, etc.),
– photomontages or other changes
must be clearly marked as such for the casual reader, either in the caption or in the accompanying text.
A newspaper or magazine bears full journalistic responsibility for advance reports published in a compressed form which announce a forthcoming publication. Anyone who further distributes advance reports by press organs by stating the source must, basically, be able to rely on their validity. Abridgements or additions must not lead to a situation where the basic elements of the publication are given a new slant or prompt incorrect conclusions which may damage the justifiable interests of third parties.
An interview is completely journalistically fair if it has been authorised by the interviewee or his representative. If time is scarce, it is also correct to publish unauthorised interviews, if it is clear to both the interviewer and the interviewee that the statements made therein are to be published either verbatim or in an edited version. Journalists must always declare themselves as such.
If the text of an interview is reproduced in full or in part the newspaper or magazine concerned must state its source. If the basic content of orally expressed thoughts is paraphrased, it is nonetheless a matter of journalistic honour to state the source.
In the case of advanced reports of an interview in the form of an abridged version, care must be taken to protect the interviewee against any distortions or impairments which may jeopardise his justified interests.
The imposition of the embargoes during which the publication of certain information is held over is only justifiable if it is vital for objective and careful reporting. In principle they represent a free agreement between the informant and the media. Embargoes should only be observed if there is a justifiable reason, such as in the case of speeches still to be held, advance copies of company reports or information on a future event (meetings, resolutions, honours’ ceremonies, etc.). Embargoes must not be used for publicity purposes.
(1) By means of readers’ letters, insofar as they are suitable in terms of form and content, readers should have the chance to express their views and thus participate in the opinion-forming process. It is in line with the journalistic duty of care to observe the journalistic principle when publishing readers’ letters.
(2) Correspondence with the publisher or editorial department of a newspaper or magazine may only be printed as readers’ letters if it is clear, due to form and content, that this is in accordance with the sender’s wishes. Consent may be assumed if the letter refers to articles published by the newspaper or magazine concerned or to matters of general interest. The authors of such readers’ letters have no legal right to have them published.
(3) It goes without saying that readers’ letters are also subject to the usual practice of publishing the author’s name. Only in exceptional cases can another designation be used, upon the wish of the author. If there is any doubt about the identity of the sender, the letter should not be printed. The publication of bogus readers’ letters is not compatible with the duties of the press.
(4) Changes or abridgements to letters from known authors are basically impermissible without the author’s consent. Abridgements are possible if the column contains a permanent reference to the editor’s right to shorten letters. Should the author expressly forbid changes or abridgements, the editor must comply with his wish, even if he has the right to abridge, or else refuse to publish the letter.
(5) All readers’ letters sent to the editor are subject to confidentiality. They must never be passed on to third parties.
Published news or assertions which subsequently turn out to be incorrect must be promptly rectified in an appropriate manner by the publication concerned.
The reader must be able to recognise that the previous article was wholly or partly incorrect. For this reason a correction publishing the true facts must also refer to the previous incorrect article. The true facts are to be published even if the error has already been publicly admitted in another fashion.
Dishonest methods must not be used to acquire news, information or pictures.
Research is a legitimate part of journalistic activity. In principle, journalists must identify themselves. Untrue statements by a researching journalist about his identity and employer are irreconcilable with the reputation and function of the press.
Undercover research may be justifiable in individual cases if in this way information of particular public interest is gained which cannot be procured in another fashion.
In the event of accidents and natural disasters the press must take note that emergency services for the victims and those in danger have priority over the public right to information.
Confidentiality is to be adhered to in principle.
Should an informant stipulate, as a condition for the dissemination of his/her statements, that he/she remain unrecognisable as a source and thus protected from danger, this condition shall be respected. Confidentiality may only be lifted if the information concerns the planning of a crime, in which case the journalist is obliged to inform the police. It may also be lifted if, after careful assessment of the considerations and property and interests, important reasons of state are predominant, which may be the case where the constitutional order is affected or jeopardised.
Confidential events and plans may be reported upon if, after careful consideration, it is seen that the public right to information has a higher priority than the reasons advanced for secrecy.
All those employed by the press shall observe professional secrecy, make full use of the right to refuse to give evidence and shall not disclose the identity of informants without their express consent.
Should a journalist or publisher exercise another function in addition to his journalistic activity, for example in a government, an authority or in an economic enterprise, all those concerned must take care to clearly separate these functions. The same applies vice versa. A conflict of interests harms the standing of the press.
Journalists or publishers who engage in secret service activities damage the credibility of the press and destroy the basis of trust enjoyed by journalism.
The responsibility of the press towards the general public requires that editorial publications are not influenced by the private and business interests of third parties. Publishers and editors must reject any attempts of this nature and make a clear distinction between editorial texts and publications for commercial reasons.
Regulations under advertising law apply to paid publications. According to these regulations publications must have such a form that the reader can recognise it as advertising.
Editorial publications which refer to companies, their products, services or events, must not fall prey to surreptitious advertising. The danger of this is especially great if the publication goes beyond justified public interest or the reader’s interest in information.
The press’s credibility as a source of information requires particular care in dealing with PR texts and in producing separate editorial comments.
This also applies to unedited advertising texts, advertising photographs and advertising illustrations.
Special publications are subject to the same editorial responsibility as all other editorial publications.
The press shall respect the private life and intimate sphere of persons. If, however, the private behaviour of a person touches upon public interests, then it may be reported upon. Care must be taken to ensure that the personal rights of uninvolved persons are not violated.
(1) The publication of names and photographs of accused persons and victims in reports on accidents, crimes, investigations and court cases (cf. Figure 13 of the Press Code) is in general not justifiable. The public’s right to information must always be weighed up against the personal rights of those involved. The need for sensation cannot justify the public’s right to be informed.
(2) Victims of accidents or crimes have a right to special protection of their name. It is not necessary to identify the victim in order to better understand the report of the accident or crime. Exceptions can be justified if the person concerned is famous or if there are special accompanying circumstances.
(3) In the case of dependents and other people who are affected who have nothing to do with the accident or the crime, the publication of names and pictures is in general impermissible.
(4) The publication of the complete name and/or the picture of suspects accused of a capital crime is justified in exceptional cases if this is in the interests of solving the crime and an arrest warrant has been issued or if the crime was committed in public.
If there is any reason to believe that a perpetrator has no criminal capacity, no names or pictures should be published.
(5) In the case of crimes committed by juveniles, names and identifying pictures should not be published with deference to the future of the juveniles, insofar as no serious crimes are concerned.
(6) In the case of officials and elected representatives, the publication of names and pictures can be permissible if there is a connection between the office or mandate and a crime. The same applies to famous people if the crime they have committed is contrary to the image that the public has of them.
(7) The names and pictures of missing persons may be published; however only in agreement with the authorities concerned.
In the interests of resocialisation, the publication of names and pictures is to be omitted in reporting following a criminal trial.
Physical and mental illness or injuries fall within the private area of the person concerned. The press, out of consideration for those involved and their dependents, should refrain from naming and including pictures of persons in such cases, as well as avoiding deprecating remarks concerning the illness or hospital/institution, even if such remarks are to be heard among the general public. Historical or famous persons are protected by law against discriminating revelations even after their death.
Reporting on suicide cases requires restraint. This particularly applies to the publication of names and the detailed description of the circumstances. Exceptions are only justifiable if the case is taken from current history and for which there is a public interest.
In reports on countries where opposition to the government can mean danger for life and limb, press consideration must always be given to whether, by publishing names or photographs, those involved may be identified and persecuted in their home country. The same applies to reports on refugees. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the publication of details about such persons, the preparation and execution of escapes and routes may result in remaining relatives and friends being endangered or in existing escape routes being eliminated.
The publication of anniversary dates of such persons as are otherwise not in the public eye requires that the editor confirms in advance whether those involved consent to publication or would prefer protection from public scrutiny.
It is contrary to journalistic decorum to publish unfounded claims and accusation, particularly those likely to injure personal dignity.
Publications in word and image which could seriously offend the moral or religious feelings of a group of persons, in form or content, are irreconcilable with the responsibility of the press.
The press will refrain from an inappropriate sensational portrayal of violence and brutality. The protection of young persons is to be given consideration in reports.
A portrayal is inappropriately sensational if in the report the person is reduced to an object, to a mere thing. This is particularly the case if reports about a dying or physically or mentally suffering person are to such an extent that they go beyond the public interest and the information interest of the reader.
In reporting on threats of violence and violent acts, the press should carefully weigh up the public’s interest in information against the interests of the victims and other parties involved. It shall report on such things in an independent and authentic way, but shall not serve as the tool of criminals, nor shall it undertake independent attempts to mediate between criminals and the police.
Interviews with perpetrators during the act are not allowed.
The threshold of acceptability in reports on accidents and catastrophes is exceeded when the suffering of the victims and their dependants is not respected. Victims of misfortune must not be made to suffer a second time by their portrayal in the media.
In principle the press does not accept news embargoes. Coordination between the media and the police shall only occur if the action of journalists can protect or save the life and health of victims and other involved persons. The press shall comply with police requests for a partial or total news embargo in the interests of solving crime, if the request is convincingly justified.
The publication of so-called criminal memoirs infringes the journalistic principles if crimes are justified or qualified with hindsight, the victims are inappropriately affected and if only the demand for sensation is satisfied by a detailed description of the crime.
Publications in the press must not play down the use of drugs.
There must be no discrimination against a person on racial, ethnic, religious, social or national grounds or because of his/her sex.
When reporting on crimes, it is not permissible to refer to the alleged perpetrator’s religious, ethnic or other minority membership unless this information is directly relevant to the event.
It must be particularly born in mind that any such mention could awaken prejudices against groups in need of protection.
Reports on cases or investigations which are still sub-judice must be free from prejudice. For this reason, before and during legal proceedings, all comment, both in portrayal and head-line, must avoid being one-sided or prejudicial. An accused person must not be described as guilty before final judgement has been passed.
Reports on investigations and court cases are designed to inform the public in a careful and unbiased way about crimes, their prosecution and judgement. Suspects must be assumed innocent until they are proved guilty by the court, even if they have confessed. Also in cases when the guilty person is obvious to the public, the person concerned cannot be portrayed as guilty within the meaning of a judgement until judgement has been made.
Prejudicial portrayals and allegations are contrary to the constitutional protection of human dignity, which also applies to criminals without limitation.
In a state guided by the rule of law the aim of court reporting must not be that of socially punishing convicted criminals by using the media as a pillory. There should, therefore, be a clear distinction in reporting between suspicion and proven guilt.
Should the press report on the unconfirmed conviction of a person mentioned by name or identifiable to a large circle of readers, journalistic fairness dictates that an ensuing, legitimately confirmed acquittal or quashing of proceedings also be reported on, insofar as the determinable interest of the person affected do not dictate to the contrary. This recommendation also applies to the suspension of investigations.
Criticism and commentary pursuant to a case must be easily distinguishable from the report on the case itself.
When reporting on crimes committed by young persons and on their appearance in court, the press must exercise restraint out of consideration for their future. This also applies to young victims.
Reports on medical matters should not be of an unnecessarily sensationalist nature, since they might lead to unfounded fears or hopes on the part of some readers. Research findings which are still at an early stage should not be portrayed as if they were conclusive or almost conclusive.
Articles on alleged successes or failures in medical or pharmaceutical research on the fight against serious illnesses require circumspection and a sense of responsibility. Neither text nor presentation should thus include anything which might awaken unfounded hopes of cure in the foreseeable future in ill readers and their dependants, if this does not coincide with the actual state of medical research. Conversely, critical or one-sided reports on controversial opinions subject to debate should not make seriously ill persons unsure and thus raise doubts about the possible success of therapeutic measures.
The acceptance or granting of privileges of any kind which could possibly influence the freedom of decision on the part of publishers and editors are irreconcilable with the prestige, independence and responsibilities of the press. Anyone accepting bribes for the dissemination of news acts in a dishonourable and unprofessional manner.
The acceptance of invitations and gifts which exceed the usual level in social intercourse and the level necessary in the line of duty may lead to an impairment of the freedom of decision and independent judgement on the part of newspaper companies and their staff. Just the appearance that the freedom of decision of the publishing house and the editor can be impaired by accepting invitations and gifts is to be avoided.
Gifts are economic and ideal benefits at any time. The acceptance of advertising goods for everyday use or other low-value objects on traditional occasions is not considered.
Research and reporting must not be influenced, hindered or prevented by the giving or accepting of gifts, discounts or invitations. Publishing houses and journalists should insist that information be given regardless of the acceptance of a gift or an invitation.
It is considered fair reporting when a public reprimand issued by the German Press Council is published, especially by the newspapers or magazines concerned.
The following applies to the newspaper or magazine concerned:
The reader must be informed of the false nature of the reprimanded publication and of the journalistic guideline violated by it.
The above translation was published by Inter Nationes. Reproduced with kind permission. This HTML edition by Lawrence Schäfer and © 2000 Gerhard Dannemann. The contents of this page may be downloaded and printed out in single copies for individual use only. Making multiple copies without permission is prohibited.