DE: Higher Regional Court on the coverage of press reports in a municipal newsletter

Cristina Bachmeier

On 27 January 2016, the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht – OLG) of Stuttgart decided that a municipal newsletter can violate the constitutional rule of political freedom of the press. In the proceedings between a newspaper publisher and a local authority, the Court had to decide on the scope of the permissible reporting in a newsletter of the municipality. In the present case, the Court held that the municipal newsletter in question violates the principle of political freedom of the press.

Art. 5 of the German Constitution provides political freedom of the press, while Art. 20 of the Municipal Code of the State Baden-Württemberg allows the disclosure of general information about important plans and projects of the municipality. Therefore, public authorities may publish printed material only to fulfill their public duties or to engage in permissible public relations.

The official newsletter of the municipality reported on its website information and content about political and social life, which does not fall within its original competencies (for instance notices of other special purpose associations, authorities and public institutions, and in particular local business coverage). In an interview, the mayor pointed out that he welcomes the fact that the city publishes a newspaper with journalistic articles and that he used the municipal journal as a political tool.

The Court also stated that, in the specific case, the municipal newsletter did indeed violate the constitution. The Court held that the newsletter is unlawful and prohibited its free distribution. The Court stated that the official newsletter of a municipality may report on the activities of the local council, the activities of the mayor and the municipal authorities, in so far as these concern the affairs of the community. By evaluating the content of the newsletter, the OLG Stuttgart noted that the limits of legitimate coverage were exceeded, because the newsletter reported not only on projects and plans of the administration, but also on activities and events in the community, for example on the activities of churches, associations, citizens' groups, clubs, sports, and especially local business news.

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

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The press release of the OLG Stuttgart is available in German here.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –