Feindbild Journalist 8: Fear of self-censorship Library

Feindbild Journalist 8: Fear of self-censorship

Feindbild Journalist 8: Fear of self-censorship

In 2023, the number of physical attacks on journalists in Germany increased compared to 2022. Rising from 56 cases in 2022, 69 cases of physical attacks on journalists were verified by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the MFRR in 2023.

For more than four years, the annual number of attacks on journalists has been at a high level compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, when an average of about 23 cases per year were registered between 2015 and 2019. The assumption that the number of attacks on journalists in Germany would decrease with the marginalisation of the “Querdenker” movement and the associated decline in the number of rallies has not materialised. Patrick Peltz, co-author of the study, said:

Indeed, the number of attacks in this context is declining. However, the figures from the Feindbild studies suggest that in certain, partially overlapping milieus and the resulting common protest structures, mistrust of the media has increasingly developed into hostility towards the media, which also has an increasingly pronounced behavioural side. Hostility towards the media no longer ‘only’ manifests itself in the ‘Lügenpresse’ cries, insults and threats that have become part of journalists’ everyday lives, but also in an increased number of violent attacks on journalists over the past four years.

Berlin replaces Saxony as the frontrunner for 2023 in terms of physical attacks on journalists compared to the previous year. Although Saxony recorded 13 cases, more than in the previous year (11 cases), Berlin recorded a significantly higher figure with 25 assaults. Of the 25 cases, 21 occurred in the context of pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Bavaria follows with six cases.

Focus on local journalism: security concerns have an impact on critical reporting

In cooperation with the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), ECPMF continued to monitor threats to local journalism in 2023. Compared to the previous year, the number of physical attacks on local journalists has declined. A total of seven physical and eight non-physical attacks were registered. In 2022, the number of physical attacks was 12. Some of the local journalists who were the target of physical and non-physical attacks in 2023 were also affected in the past. It was already pointed out in the previous study that a lack of anonymity in the local area can pose a security problem for local journalists.

A closer analysis of the state of Saxony, which accounts for a third of all registered cases since 2015 (117 out of 390), also reveals a previously underexposed phenomenon: self-censorship. Local journalists who work in areas where the far-right’s territorial capture is highly pronounced and reaches into the so-called centrist part of society report that certain topics are omitted locally due to a perceived permanent threat situation. Patrick Peltz said:

Reports from local journalists that they themselves or colleagues refrain from reporting on certain actors and movements out of concern for their safety is a very worrying development for press freedom in Germany. Critical reporting is particularly important ahead of the many upcoming local, state and European elections in Saxony this year, in which numerous right-wing extremists are running. ‘Blind spots’ in reporting make it easier for these actors to present themselves as harmless and benevolent candidates and thus attract the attention of people who feel neglected by the established parties.

It is important to further examine how pronounced the phenomenon of self-censorship already is and to what extent these reports can be generalized to other regions in Saxony and other federal states where the far-right capture of territory is also pronounced and a corresponding electoral milieu is very dominant.


Focus on countermeasures

Journalists, associations, media companies and many state institutions have developed countermeasures in response to the increased threats of recent years. In some cases, learning effects can be observed. While an increasing number of media houses offer their employees psychological counselling services, associations and organisations continuously initiate new support offerings, such as last year’s Helpline project. Police media protection has also tended to improve overall, although its quality can vary greatly. The committees of the Conference of Interior Ministers continue to advocate a new version of the Code of Conduct for Police and Media. Time and again, journalists report cases in which they were not adequately protected or were themselves the target of police measures. Overall, there is still a considerable need to improve existing services and create further ones. Alina Haynert, co-author of the study, said: 

Even though we are seeing improvements in many areas – both from the state and non-state side – there are still significant gaps in protection and support. These affect freelance journalists in particular, who often do not seem to benefit from the protection structures of media houses. At the same time, they are disproportionately affected by physical attacks.

Feindbild Journalist 8: Fear of self-censorship

Key findings

  • Attacks increased again: With 69 attacks, the number of cases is on the rise again.
  • Demonstrations – the most dangerous workplace: 77 percent of all cases occurred at demonstrations (53 out of 69 cases), 40 percent of them at pro-Palestinian assemblies (21 out of 53 cases).
  • Precarious employment relationships: At least 59 percent of cases involved a freelance employment relationship (41 out of 69 cases).
  • Local assaults: Seven physical and eight non-physical attacks on local journalists.
  • Saxony – hotspot of far-right violence: 79 percent of attacks against media professionals since 2015 have come from the far-right spectrum (92 out of 117 cases).
  • “Blind spots” in Saxony: In Saxony, there are signs of self-censorship and an increasing lack of reporting as a result of the extreme far-right capture of territory.
  • Focus on Berlin: Berlin is the most affected federal state with 25 cases.
  • Overall view 2015-2023: ECPMF documented 390 cases.

This report was coordinated by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Feindbild Journalist 7 Library

Feindbild Journalist 7: Berufsrisiko Nähe

Feindbild Journalist 7: Berufsrisiko Nähe

After setting two negative records in a row, the number of attacks on media professionals in Germany fell in 2022. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) recorded 56 assaults throughout the year; 27 fewer than in 2021.

After setting two negative records in a row, the number of attacks on media professionals in Germany fell in 2022. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) recorded 56 assaults throughout the year; 27 fewer than in 2021.

According to the analysis of the researchers, the decline in attacks is largely due to the marginalisation of the lateral thinking movement protests. In the previous year, the largest proportion of assaults (77 percent) had taken place around demonstrations against COVID-19 measures. In 2022, that proportion dropped to 48 percent. However, the decline cannot be read as an indication that the security situation is easing. At 56 verified attacks, the attacks are four times that of the pre-pandemic level of 2019, when there were 14 attacks.

Outrage movements such as lateral thinking or previously Pegida are catalysts of press hostility. How high the number of attacked journalists in Germany is, depends largely on the mobilisation ability of these protestors. Hatred of the press serves them as an ideological clasp to keep their heterogeneous followers together,” says Martin Hoffmann, co-author of the study.

In a comparison of the German states, Saxony recorded the most assaults with eleven cases. This is the fifth time since 2015 that the Free State has recorded the most annual assaults. In 2022, Berlin followed with nine registered assaults. Bavaria and Thuringia had eight each. An increased spread of assaults to the western German states, which was first observed in 2021, did not continue last year, according to the ECPMF analysis.


Focus on local journalism: When proximity becomes a security problem

Compared to the previous year, the number of physical attacks on local journalists increased threefold. A total of twelve physical attacks were verified; in the previous year, four local media professionals were affected. According to the analysis, local media workers are exposed to a particular threat because they cannot disappear into anonymity like their colleagues in larger cities. In some cases, anti-press citizens demonstrated directly in front of editorial offices or tried to intimidate journalists in front of their private homes.

The ‘lying press’ accusations that have persisted for years have led to the current level of threats. We heard in many interviews that media professionals take security precautions when reporting on demos or that they avoid potentially dangerous situations altogether,” says Annkathrin Pohl, co-author of the study. “What is frightening to note, however, is that for some, the hostility has not only changed the way they work, but their own attitude toward the job: from what used to be their dream job to the ‘shittiest job’.


Focus on countermeasures

Journalists, associations, and media companies, as well as many state institutions, have now developed countermeasures. The initiative of some interior ministries is a positive development. In Saxony and several other German states, increasingly comprehensive media protection concepts are being implemented to better protect media professionals from attacks at gatherings. In addition, public broadcasters in particular, as well as larger private media companies, have taken a whole range of protective measures for their employees, such as escorts, de-escalation seminars, or legal support services. However, Jessica Jana Dutz, co-author of the study, still sees many gaps:

Freelance journalists in particular are still not adequately protected in Germany. There are too few low-threshold, low-cost offers of protection for them. Journalists’ unions and initiatives are trying to fill this gap but even they have limited resources and cannot reach everyone.

Feindbild Journalist 7

Key findings

  • No new negative record: with 56 attacks, the number of cases in 2022 declined since the previous year.
  • Demonstrations – the most dangerous workplace: 80 percent of all cases occurred at protests (45 of 56 cases), of which 60 percent (27 of 45 cases) occurred at protests related to COVID.
  • Trend stopped: the spread of attacks to the western German states has been interrupted (for now).
  • Focus on Saxony: with eleven cases, the Free State is again the most frequently affected federal state.
  • Assaults in the local area: with 12 assaults in 2022, three times as many local journalists were assaulted as in 2021.
  • Record month: 23 cases were recorded in January 2022 alone (41 percent of total cases), more than any other month.
  • 2015-2022 total: ECPMF documented 321 cases.
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Patricia Schlesinger, Intendantin des rbb und ARD-Vorsitzende, spricht auf dem Eröffnungspanel der Medientage Mitteldeutschland in Leipzig. Bei den Medientagen Mitteldeutschland diskutieren bis Donnerstag (02.06.2022) Medienexperten über aktuelle Entwicklungen in der Branche. Library

Germany: Misuse of funds at RBB highlights need for…

Germany: Misuse of funds at RBB highlights need for greater accountability in publicly funded media

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) denounce the obvious misuse of public funds by Patricia Schlesinger, former director of Berlin’s public broadcaster Radio Berlin Brandenburg (RBB). We welcome her instant dismissal while demanding a thorough investigation and calling for improved accountability in publicly funded media.

On 15 August, the Rundfunkrat, which supervises the broadcaster, decided to instantly dismiss Ms. Schlesinger following her decision to step back from her position as director on 7 August. The dismissal was made in response to a wave of allegations related to mismanagement of public funds. Among the allegations are the allocation of a €100,000 consultancy contract to Schlesinger’s husband, Gerhard Spörl, and an alleged €1,400,000 renovation of the director’s office floor. It was also revealed that Schlesigner recently received a 16% pay rise, which left her with an annual salary totalling €303,000. These revelations have come forth at a time when the financially-strapped RBB has been cutting positions and programming costs.


While the MFRR reiterates EFJ’s call for the German authorities to conduct a proper investigation into suspicions of corruption, the partners also express concern at the wider reputational damage it has already caused to RBB. This particular concern has been backed up by reports of abuse directed at RBB journalists and media workers in the wake of the scandal. According to t-online.de, “Criticism, insults and abuse have become the order of the day” following the accusations against Schlesinger scandal have put a great strain on the journalists’ work. “The vast majority of them are freelance reporters, who encounter viewers on the streets who do not hold back their criticism and are also carried away by insults and abuse.”


In addition, the reputational damage will have a wider impact on public service media both in Germany and across Europe. In recent years, governments throughout Europe have been cutting funding to public service media and questioning its funding system. The compulsory broadcasting licence fee has been a source of debate, with the German Government set to discuss renegotiating the fee with the Pubweb network of broadcasters in the coming months. In addition, distrust of and negativity towards public service media in Germany has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with opposition groups accusing public service media of bias and pushing a particular agenda. At a time when support for public interest media is at a major crossroads, Ms. Schlesinger’s actions will inevitably have a negative impact on its reputation in Germany. 


We fully support RBB’s journalists who continue working to offer a vital public service despite the ongoing controversy and condemn any attacks and abuse levelled at them as a result of the scandal. We also ask the German Public Service Media to substantially strengthen the auditing bodies and compliance departments within the broadcasters. The controlling bodies must be adequately staffed and resourced to balance the power of the directorate. Ms. Schlesinger’s case shows that without addressing these systemic issues, there remains a clear risk of misuse.

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Feindbild-6 Library

Feindbild Journalist 6 – Hatred on the Doorstep

Feindbild Journalist 6 – Hatred on the Doorstep

(Leipzig, 14/06/2022) — The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, (MFRR) has published the English translation of the 2021 iteration of “Feindbild”, an annual study into politically-motivated violence against journalists in Germany. “Feindbild 6 – Hatred on the Doorstep” was first published in German in April 2022.

Key findings: A new negative record

As part of the study, ECPMF recorded a record number of 83 physical attacks on journalists and media workers, an increase of 14 from the previous year. These attacks affected 124 media workers or teams, although the researchers assume that the number of unreported cases is high. Co-author of the report, Martin Hoffmann said:


Since we started recording cases in 2015, we have never verified so many violent attacks against media professionals as in 2021. Serious threats and physical attacks are part of the everyday work of more and more journalists. This does not remain without consequences. A growing number of journalists are therefore withdrawing from covering demonstrations.


Demonstrations and protests were the context in which attacks against the press happened most frequently in Germany. 75% took place at demonstrations of pandemic-related protest networks such as Querdenken.


As in previous years, Saxony remains the largest offender when it comes to politically-motivated violence against journalists, with 23 recorded incidents in 2021. However, this year marked an increase in the number of attacks taking place in western Germany.


The political background of the attackers in 2021 was highly varied. 39% of attackers came from right-wing perpetrators, 1% from the left, and 39% could not be attributed to any particular political stance.


Attacks increased towards the end of 2021, with 19 recorded in December and 18 in January 2022 — the highest number recorded in any two months since the start of the research in 2015.


Support from BDZV

For the first time, the German Federal Association of Digital Publishers and Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) supported the production of the Feindbild study. Speaking of the report’s findings, Mr. Sigrun Albert, General Manager of BDZV said:


Unfortunately, the new Feindbild study confirms our assumption that local journalists are increasingly being targeted by violent attacks because of their work. Hateful attacks and massive digital threats are also at least as disturbing.


BDZV will partner with and support ECPMF to implement long-term monitoring of attacks facing journalists in Germany and to develop counter-measures in response. Dr. Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director of ECPMF, said:


What we need is more protection for media professionals, more consistent punishment of criminal offences, and more media literacy education. The partnership with BDZV enables us to explore and analyse the problems in the local space more intensively in the future. We are looking forward to the collaboration.

This report was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Germany: MFRR expresses concern over rising attacks against journalists…

Germany: MFRR expresses concern over rising attacks against journalists covering protests

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express their concern about the increasing number of attacks against journalists across Germany, particularly in the context of anti-vaccine demonstrations. We call for better safety measures and protection as well as thorough investigations of attacks against journalists covering such demonstrations. Moreover, preventative measures are needed to stop such attacks from happening. Finally, we encourage media workers to report press and media freedom violations.

Already in 2020, reported attacks against journalists had more than doubled compared to the previous year. This dramatic increase to 255 aggressions can be attributed to the regular demonstrations taking place across Germany against government Covid-19 measures, including planned mandatory vaccination. According to MFRR data, right-wing extremist rallies are also particularly hostile environments for media professionals. 

From January 1 until December 15, 2021, the MFRR recorded 108 violations to press and media freedom in Germany, with 85 of these violations taking place as attacks against journalists during demonstrations. Yet, the real figure is expected to be much higher: due to safety reasons, many journalists choose not to go public when they receive threats. A common misperception is also that attacks, particularly online harassment, are simply “part of the job”. The MFRR aims to reverse such attitudes and joins the German Journalists Association (DJV) in urging journalists and media professionals to press charges, should they receive threats or be subjected to other kinds of violence.

During demonstrations, journalists are frequently physically attacked, their equipment is targeted and insults and threats are also common. Freelance photojournalist Aaron Karasek, who has been subjected to repeated violence during protests, shared on Twitter: “At this point, there are almost no Querdenker demonstrations where I or colleagues do not get attacked.” Due to such experiences, TV crews from large broadcasters now usually go to Querdenker demonstrations with security guards. While this might create a feeling of safety, it does not always prevent journalists from being attacked, as for instance the aggression against an SWR TV team accompanied by three security staff shows. Further, a lack of resources does not allow all journalists to make use of such support.

Against this backdrop, we have repeatedly called for better police response and training in order to guarantee the safety of journalists. However, as recent protests – such as in Dresden – have shown, police officers even obstruct journalists in their work when they should be protecting them. The MFRR has recorded physical attacks, threats, confiscation of materials, reporting restrictions and detentions against journalists and media professionals. In 26 alerts on the Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) platform in 2021, police or state security were reported as the sources of attacks. This attitude targeting members of the media is unacceptable and the MFRR stresses the need to actively support press and media freedom. 

The German Journalists Union (dju in ver.di) and the German Journalists’ Association (DJV) have repeatedly demanded to increase the number of police officers at demonstrations to better focus on the needs of journalists. The Federal Ministry of Interior indicated that safety procedures will be improved. Right now, the police are often highly understaffed and overwhelmed. While they frequently set up separate areas for media workers to be shielded from aggressions, journalists criticise that such zones separate them from the demonstrations. Strategic de-escalation and unhindered press work, in contrast to reported tedious press card checks and journalists’ expulsions, are desirable.

Another major problem, that often goes hand in hand with anti-Covid-measures demonstrations, is the use of online messaging application Telegram, to plan attacks and exchange information about journalists. The police should do everything in their power to punish these unacceptable acts and application managers should take reports of plans of violence on their platforms seriously and manage the groups according to their community standards. While it is difficult to regulate Telegram, keyword Network Enforcement Act, investigative authorities still have options to counter the spread of calls for violence there. Threatening cases on online platforms involving journalists should be prioritised.

While the amount of attacks against journalists in Germany is particularly alarming, it should also be noted that aggressions during demonstrations and threats via Telegram channels are on the rise in various European countries, such as in France, Italy, the Netherlands or Luxembourg. The MFRR is closely monitoring these violations and calls on the governments and police to take preventive measures and to thoroughly investigate these attacks. 

Good practice examples to better promote a safer environment for journalists are listed below: 

  • In the Netherlands, the police and the public prosecutor’s office give priority to incidents concerning journalists. Following an agreement in 2018, concrete guidelines and training have been offered to law-enforcement services to better respond to threats against the media. A hotline enabling journalists to report acts of aggression has been set up.  
  • In the UK, the government has adopted a national action plan to protect journalists from abuse and harassment. Every police force is to deal with a designated journalist safety liaison officer, and at national level a senior police officer will take responsibility for crime against journalists at national level.
  • In Sweden, the government has commissioned the Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority to produce a training and information resource on support for journalists exposed to threats. The government has also commissioned Linnæus University to build a knowledge centre and a OBCservice offering advice and support to journalists and editorial offices, including freelancers, small offices and smaller production companies.

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Erk Acarer - photo: Twitter upload (https://twitter.com/eacarer) Library

Germany: Exiled Turkish journalist attacked outside his apartment in…

Germany: Exiled Turkish journalist attacked outside his apartment in Berlin

On 7 July, exiled Turkish journalist Erk Acarer was attacked with “fists and knives” outside his apartment in Berlin. Acarer has lived in German exile since 2017 because of his critical reporting of the Turkish government. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its German affiliates, the German Journalists Association (DJV) and the German Journalists Union (dju in ver.di), as well as its Turkish affiliates in strongly condemning this aggression.

The attack took place on Wednesday night in the Berlin district of Neukölln, where three assailants beat him with their fists and knives in his yard. The journalists reported the attack on Twitter, where he shared photos of his injuries and described what had happened. In a video, Acarer said that one of the attackers shouted “You will not write!” . “I know the perpetrators. I will never surrender to fascism,” the journalist reacted. Acarer said that security told him not to disclose names.

The journalist was treated in a hospital for his head injury, which was reportedly not severe. He and his family have been placed under police protection. On Thursday, Berlin police confirmed the attack but did not share details of the suspects.

Facing threats in Turkey because of his critical reporting on the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Acarer and his family came to Germany in 2017. He was also charged for publishing classified information on state security and intelligence activities.

Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, also living in exile in Germany, called it a “direct message” from the Turkish head of state that Turkey could attack a journalist critical of the regime – even in Berlin.

The DJV called the attack “shocking” and drew comparisons with the Skripal case, saying that “the Turkish president is apparently learning from his colleague in Moscow”.

Monique Hofmann, dju in ver.di General Secretary, said: “Only by systematically investigating the motives behind the crime and prosecuting the perpetrators can we prevent the threats to media workers, which they have fled to their home countries, from continuing here.”

“We are appalled by this attack and call on the German authorities to thoroughly and swiftly investigate this cruel aggression. We need governments to do everything to protect all journalists, be they journalists in exile, freelancers or staff journalists,” stated Renate Schroeder, Director of the EFJ.
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Germany’s Federal Constitutional Protection Act removed protection for journalists

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Protection Act removed protection for journalists

On 10 June 2021, the German Bundestag approved amendments to the Federal Constitutional Protection Act, removing legal provisions that exempted journalists from surveillance and hacking during terrorism investigations. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its German affiliates, Deutscher Journalisten Verband (DJV) and Deutsche Journalistinnen und Journalisten Union (dju) in ver.di in criticising the Act as an infringement of journalists’ fundamental rights and a threat to the anonymity of whistleblowers.

Under the law, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the federal police will be given more powers to secretly monitor online activity and encrypted communications, such as on WhatsApp. Journalists are not exempt, so intelligence services will also be able to hack into journalists’ computers or smartphones on the strict condition that this is done in the context of terrorism investigations.

The EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, said: “Without exemptions for journalists, this law would not only violate press freedom but could be counterproductive for its own purpose having a negative impact on investigative journalism. With no exemptions, journalists risk running dry for sources in critical stories, and whistleblowers may be much more hesitant to reveal important information.”

The approval of these so-called “state Trojans” has drawn strong criticism, not only from members of the opposition of the Bundestag – who called such move “unconstitutional” – but also from journalists’ organisations, lawyers and experts, who warned that the provisions carried a considerable risk of abuse. They intend to file a constitutional complaint on press freedom grounds against the legislation with the country’s highest court. Journalists in particular, who rely on confidential communication with their informants, could be affected by this law.

Monique Hofmann, dju in ver.di General Secretary, said that the media are already being targeted by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution on “questionable grounds”. “Instead of creating a remedy through more transparency and control, the law in its current form cements this deficiency,” criticised Hofmann.

DJV press speaker Hendrik Zörner said: “Those affected do not notice the surveillance, nor do they need to be informed. So how should a journalist be able to guarantee the anonymity of his or her sources in the future? Not at all.”