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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 ( 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.
Deutscher_Bundestag_by_OlafKosinsky_2695-1 Library

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.”