Germany: The German Press Council updates guidelines on user-generated content

Ingo Beckendorf

The German Press Council has supplemented the requirements for an ethical press on the internet. In its meeting, held on 3 November 2014 in Berlin, the self-regulatory body adopted additional journalistic guidelines and updated some of the existing ones.

During the revision of the Press Code, special attention was given to the second chapter on duty of care where a new guideline was introduced, namely the "User Generated-Content".

This principle makes it clear that firstly, the press bears the responsibility for its content, including the content generated by users and this should be made public. Secondly, the editorial staff  have an obligation to ensure compliance with journalistic principles if violations through user-generated content have been detected or have been notified to them. If the editorial staff themselves select individual posts from the users or edit them, they are obliged from the start to respect the journalistic guidelines.

Another modification has been made with regard to the publication of user-generated content in printed newspapers, such as anonymous letters addressed to the editor. It is a general practice to print the author's name. Only in exceptional cases and only at the author's request can another name or pseudonym be used. If there are any doubts about the identity of the author, the publication should not be published.

The publication of faked or fictitious letters by the editor remains incompatible with the fundamental responsibility of the press.

In the third chapter (Corrections) a new guideline refers to the requirements for the publication of corrections in online texts in the case of false allegations. In this context, the traceability of the original article is of great importance and the rectification in the original text has to be clearly marked.

The German Press Code contains 16 chapters which determine the standards and the requirements for reporting and ethical journalistic conduct. Complementary rules give practical guidance to deal with questions occurring in the daily work of editorial offices.

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

Read more:

The German Press Code is available in German here.