RSF index signals decline in press freedom as journalists continue to come under attack
On 23rdApril 2022, about 2,000 people gathered to protest against plans to bulldoze a village in Western Germany for the purposes of expanding a coal mine (operated by RWE). In a bid to halt the expansion, some activists have occupied the village by building tree houses.
In its World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) once again noted a decline in press freedom in Germany, which dropped from 13th place to 16th, attributing this to the ongoing attacks on journalists.
Real estate group withdraws lawsuit against university newspaper
On 21st January 2022 real estate company United Capital RE GmbH withdrew its legal action against Luhze e.V., a nonprofit that runs Leipzig students’ newspaper “luhze”. The legal action was initiated earlier in January and was based on a report about the company's business model published by the newspaper in December 2021. United Capital asked the newspaper to remove the article as it claimed it “spread numerous untrue factual allegations.” The law firm representing the company also billed the newspaper more than 2,000 Euros for their letter of formal notice. The newspaper said the lawsuit threatened its financial existence. As a consequence of withdrawing the lawsuit, United Capital is obliged to cover all costs resulting from the court case.
Several attacks on journalists by Querdenker and Nazi demonstrators
At the beginning of 2022, journalists from the photo and video documentation platform La Vue Critique were the target of multiple episodes of violence and harassment by Querdenker and Neonazi protesters.
- On 9th January 2022, during a Querdenker demonstration against COVID-19 measures and mandatory vaccination in Dresden, a journalist from the video and photo platform was attacked by a demonstrator who hit him in the face. The attacker also tried to remove the journalist’s face mask. The attacker was immediately detained by the police.
- On another occasionon 17th January 2022, during a Querdenker demonstration in Freiberg, two journalists from La Vue Critique and two freelance journalists for newspaper Sächsische Zeitung were verbally attacked and insulted by Querdenker demonstrators. Police intervened but told journalists to stop reporting as they were “provoking” protesters.
- On 24th January 2022, two La Vue Critique journalists and their security personnel were insulted and attacked again by Querdenker demonstrators during a demonstration against mandatory vaccination and COVID-19 measures in the Saxon town of Coswig. On that occasion, the journalists denounced the insufficient police protection received.
- On 13th February 2022, two security guards and two journalists from La Vue Critique were physically attacked and their camera destroyed during a Querdenker demonstration in Dresden. People protesting against COVID-19 measures and numerous right-wing extremists had been rallying there for weeks.
- On 21st February 2022 Querdenker demonstrators, who gathered in Erfurt to protest against the COVID-19 measures in place, attacked freelance journalists Antonio Müller and Noah Berendt, as well as a security guard. As soon as police were out of sight, protesters began to physically shove and harass the media workers. At one point, the press workers tried to reach a police car which was leaving, which the protesters tried to prevent. Protesters chased the press staff, which resulted Antonio Müller sustaining a knee injury. They managed to leave the hostile situation but had to end their reporting.
Penalty order issued to journalist for alleged trespassing while reporting
On 11th January 2022, freelance photojournalist Michael Trammer received a penalty order for alleged trespassing. The penalty order refers to the events that occurred on 11th September 2021 during the protest against the International Motor Show (IAA), in Munich. The freelance photojournalist followed a group of protesters who were squatting in a building, while covering the events for the daily newspaper taz. Trammer, who was held in custody at the time, declared that he would lodge an objection and that the freedom of press prevails over trespassing as public interest justified the action. Furthermore, he added that the penalty order failed to mention the fact that he trespassed while working as a journalist.
Heute war Strafbefehl wegen vermeintlichen “Hausfriedensbruch” während #IAA im Briefkasten. Strafantrag hat Freistaat Bayern gestellt. Die StA schreibt von angeblich “gemeinsam gefasstem Tatplan”. Dass ich als Journalist für @tazgezwitscher vor Ort war, findet keine Erwähnung. https://t.co/MzDlCDwT9t pic.twitter.com/2sqYnxH4Kd— Michael Trammer (@mic_tra) January 11, 2022
NPD deputy attacks and injures journalist
On 15th January 2022, the deputy of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) Ingo Helge attacked a journalist who was covering a Querdenker demonstration against mandatory vaccination and COVID-19 measures in the Hessian town Herborn. The journalist asked the deputy about a flag, who responded by hitting the journalist with his tripod, leading to a minor injury. The journalist filed a report with the police.
Freelance journalist pushed by police, equipment damaged
On 21st February 2022, freelance journalist and photographer Marco Kemp was pushed and his camera equipment damaged by a police officer in Göttingen. The journalist, who was reporting on a Querdenker demonstration, said that the police officer simply left after the episode. The incident took place when the police were trying to cut off a group of anti-fascist demonstrators who were approaching the Querdenker protesters in a counter demonstration.
Cyberattacks against media group
On 25th February 2022 the Funke media group came under cyberattack. The websites of the twelve media group's magazines and daily newspapers were targeted by the attack. The Frankfurter Rundschau, which belongs to the Ippen Media network, also registered problems specifically in the social media area. In fact, the news website's editor-in-chief reported that the Frankfurter Rundschau's social media pages were flooded with pro-Putin trolls and bots. However, it cannot be confirmed that Russian hackers or bots are responsible for the attacks.
Public broadcaster excluded from Tesla opening ceremony over critical reporting
On 22nd March 2022, the German public TV broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was refused accreditation for reporting on the opening ceremony of the Tesla plant in Brandenburg, the most important industrial project in Eastern Germany. The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz participated in the event. The TV broadcaster was informed the night before the ceremony that it would not receive accreditation "due to earlier reporting by the investigative magazine Frontal 21", which caused the broadcaster to lose the “trust” of the company. ZDF could report only from outside the ceremony venue.
Hendrik Zörner, the German Association of Journalists’ (DJV) press spokesman commented that the role of the press is to investigate and produce critical reports and criticised Tesla's approach to journalists. He also added that these kinds of episodes are not rare in the country.
“What is the understanding of press freedom that the US company is showing? Critical, journalistic reporting is the job of the media and must not lead to exclusion from the opening ceremony. At press events, the same law must apply to everyone. Anyone who wants to report journalistically must also be given the opportunity to do so.”
"Das @ZDF war heute ausgesperrt", meldete @ZDFheute zur Eröffnung des neuen #Tesla-Werks von Elon #Musk. Das gestörte Verhältnis des Konzerns gegenüber kritischen Medien kennt DJV-Vorstand @Harald_Stocker schon seit vielen Jahren (Foto: Tesla) >>> https://t.co/626isokwWa pic.twitter.com/KPAEwyRLDY— DJV NRW (@DJV_NRW) April 21, 2022
Attacks on journalists at pro-Palestinian protest
On 23rd April 2022 three journalists were verbally and physically assaulted while covering a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin. In particular, Bild journalist Peter Wilke was verbally threatened at the start of the demonstration, with a group of demonstrators calling him "dirty Jew". Moreover, two journalists from the Jüdisches Forum were attacked by the demonstrators. The first reporter was physically beaten, and some demonstrators tried to damage his camera. The editor-in-chief, Levi Salomon, was insulted before he too was expelled from the demonstration by the police for safety reasons.