Germany: Violations of Press Code during the reporting on Germanwings crash

Ingo Beckendorf

The German press was allowed to name and to portray the co-pilot of the Germanwings-Flight 4U9525 in most cases. That was announced by the German Press Council in a press release dating from 4 June 2015.

However, as far as the victims of the disaster and their relatives are concerned, it was unacceptable to release photos of them in the press. This result was found by the boards of complaint of the Press Council after intensive consultations about appeals concerning the reporting about the catastrophe. Altogether 430 persons had complained about the articles reporting on the incident, which is the highest number of complaints about a single event since the foundation of voluntary self-regulation of the press.

Germanwings Germanwings Airbus A319-100 wearing the new 2013 livery (Picture by B767Muck, via Wikimedia Commons)

According to the opinion of the Council, the Germanwings catastrophe was an abnormally serious case, which is unique in its kind and dimension. Thus, there would be an over-riding public interest to this case. Nevertheless, there might be reasons that might require an anonymisation. Among these reasons there is the identification of the pilot´s parents by releasing his family name, the abandonment of his place of residence or the publication of the information that the pilot has lived in his parental home. The necessity of special discretion by the media because of the pilot`s suicide or a possible pre-judgment was rejected by the Council regarding the other 149 victims.

However, the Council members issued two public reprimands, six disapprovals and nine notes. One public reprimand was issued to the German newspaper „BILD“ and their web presence „BILD ONLINE“ that had released pictures and names of the victims several times. The second reprimand was issued to the German daily newspaper „Rheinische Post“ which had reported on the partner of the pilot in an identifiable form.

The German Press Council issued six further public rebukes according to its press release from 5 June 2015 because of serious breaches of the German Press Codex. One of those was directed towards the magazine „DAS NEUE BLATT“ because of an article about the German pop singer Helene Fischer. On the cover of their magazine the writers claimed: „Helene Fischer: danger to life“. Inside the magazine they reported about a vaudeville artist who was injured during her show. This accident would make it clear that Helene Fischer has also been in danger, the journalists claimed. However, the Press Council evaluated the presentation on the cover and the headline as a deliberate misguidance of the readers.

Additional rebukes were issued by the Council because of the discrimination against gypsies, the release of an emergency call of a crime victim, a surreptitious advertising about an allegedly miracle cure and untrue reports about Princess Mette-Marit.

Ingo Beckendorf is scientific assistant at the Institute of Europwean Media Law (EMR) in Saarbrücken

Read more:

The press releases of the German Press Council are available here.

Creative Commons LicenseThis article is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –