Germany: Press Council reprimands on murder, rape and hidden advertising

Katrin Welker

The German Press Council, which is – inter alia – responsible for the evaluation of complaints against journalistic reports based on the press code, published a press release on 13 March 2015, issuing seven public reprimands, 17 disapprovals and 42 advisory notices.

  • One reprimand was given to BILD and BILD ONLINE for the reporting on a rape. The criminal took pictures of his victim as a “trophy” while committing the crime. One of those photos was published in the article. Despite the concealing of the victim’s face, the press council considered the publication of the photo a particularly serious assault on the victim’s dignity and classified it as a breach of the sections 1, 8 and 11 of the press code.
  • A breach by BILD Online of the guideline 8.2 of the press code – which protects the identity of victims – was reprimanded by the press council for a report that identified  a murder victim. The victim was recognisable in a published photo.
  • Three reprimands were issued for surreptitious advertising. The GOSLARSCHE ZEITUNG violated the principle of clear separation of editing and advertising (section 7, guideline 7.2 of the press code). The newspaper first published an article about a utility vehicle in an advertisement, and then – while using the same wording as in the advertisement and without any indication – published it as an editorial text. In two more cases the Press Council detected surreptitious advertising by the magazines WELT DER WUNDER and TV HÖREN UND SEHEN. Those magazines violated guideline 7.2 of the press code by publishing an advertisement in close physical proximity of an editorial text. The advertising effect was intensified by the positive editorial text nearby.
  • The cause for another reprimand was the reporting on a murder trial of a 16 year old suspect. The article in BILD HAMBURG gave the first name, abbreviated surname, the place of residence, and a photo of the minor. According to section 8, guideline 8.1 and 8.3, the identity of children and adolescents should be concealed even in the case of high-level crime.
  • The internet portal SHZ.DE was given a reprimand. In an article about a murder trial the defendant as well as his father was described in an identifiable way. This is a violation of section 8 of the press code.
  • Furthermore, the board of complaints made a number of advisory statements. They cautioned the internet portal of a daily newspaper, which offers to its users the possibility to show their positive or negative emotional reaction to certain articles. Since those possibilities were also offered under an article about an assassination, which caused a high number of fatalities, it could harm the reputation of the press according to section 1 of the press code. The possibility of showing a positive emotional reaction should have been deactivated for that article. On the contrary the „like“-Button on Facebook underneath a photo of a car accident with fatalities is no breach of section 1 of the press code, because users predominantly understand the “like”-Button as a neutral possibility to show interest. Thus, the „like“-button causes no ethical conflict for the press.

Katrin Welker works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

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The press release of the Press Council 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 –