Freedom of the press

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US postage stamp commemorating freedom of the press

Freedom of the press, more precisely the external freedom of the press, describes the right of radio , press and other media institutions to exercise their activities unhindered, above all to the state- uncensored publication of news and opinions .

The press or media freedom is the freedom of information , the freedom of opinion and - utterance , the pluralistic diversity of opinion and the democratic decision-making as well as the transparency and control of policy by the Public Opinion guarantee.

The idea of ​​freedom, especially in the news and opinion press, was developed particularly during the Enlightenment .

In Germany , Article 5 of the Basic Law guarantees freedom of the press for the Federal Republic of Germany together with freedom of expression , freedom of broadcasting and freedom of information . Details on legal issues are now regulated by media law , especially press law .

The Swiss Federal Constitution speaks of media freedom and thus expresses that this basic right applies not only to the printed word, but also to other means of communication.


In the German academic and legal literature as well as in the political discussion, there has been a distinction and discussion between internal ( also internal or newspaper internal ) and external freedom of the press since the 19th century and increasingly since the 1920s . In other countries, this distinction is unusual; freedom of the press is understood to mean only the external one.

“Freedom of the press” is generally understood to mean external independence from influence and instructions on the medium. Internal freedom of the press , on the other hand, particularly in the German-speaking area, means the independence of the individual journalist and editor from content-related or political restrictions on his work and from the expression of opinion by the editor-in-chief , publisher , publisher or owner of the medium within his work environment, i.e. in the internal relationship of the media company.

This internal freedom of the press, which can be stipulated in editorial statutes or in press law (failed 1974), in the press code , in collective agreements and in the principles of journalists' associations, as well as in individual employment contracts, is in some cases required as constitutional in German publications or as an additional and necessary supplement. But it is also rejected as a restriction of the freedom of the press, because it goes against the tendency protection of media companies as tendency companies .

The issue of internal freedom of expression received special attention due to the problem of whistleblowing, for example in the case of the Luxembourg leak . A well-known attempt to enforce internal freedom of the press by editors of a medium was made in the magazine Der Spiegel during the editing of Rudolf Augstein .

The attempts to enforce internal freedom of the press in Germany are largely considered to have failed.

Situation in Germany

In Germany the freedom of the press is in Art. 5 Abs. 1 S. 2 Var. 1 GG regulated:

“(1) [...] The freedom of the press and the freedom of reporting through radio and film are guaranteed. A censorship does not take place.
(2) These rights are limited in the provisions of general laws, the statutory provisions for the protection of young people and in the right to personal honor.
(3) [...] "

The term press includes all print products suitable for distribution to the public, regardless of circulation or size. The extent to which telemedia , for example Internet newspapers , are subject to the constitutional term for press or broadcasting (and thus freedom of broadcasting and broadcasting law ) is controversial in the specialist literature. Single legal regulations of press law can be found particularly in the state press laws .

The entire process is protected, from the procurement of information through the production to the dissemination of news and opinions, as well as the press product itself (see: Spiegel judgment and Cicero judgment ). The freedom of the press therefore also means that the orientation, content and form of the press product can be freely determined; at the same time that informants are protected and editorial secrecy is preserved. The freedom of the press does not differentiate between the serious press and the tabloid media (see: Lebach judgment ). The level of content can play a role when weighing other legal interests, where only press products used for superficial entertainment may be less important than serious discussions that are relevant to public debate (see Admissibility of Statements in Reporting and Journalistic Duty of Care ).

Unlike freedom of expression, freedom of the press does not cover the protection of expression as such. In addition to the legal defense dimension, the freedom of the press also means an institutional guarantee for a free press, the framework conditions of which the state must safeguard, for example through concentration control (see also Commission for Determining Concentration in the Media Area , Media Policy ) (cf. Blinkfüer decision ).

The freedom of the press is concretized, for example, in a separate right to refuse to testify ( Section 53 of the Code of Criminal Procedure , Section 383 of the Code of Civil Procedure ) for journalists who can only be wiretapped under difficult conditions. Access to the journalist profession is also not regulated by the state - private journalism schools train journalists on their own and without state influence. A press status is linked to certain requirements.

German journalists are currently very critical of data retention and advances in government online searches . It is feared that such innovations could severely impair the relationship of trust between informants and journalists. This would seriously affect the possibility of critical reporting in Germany. Such a development should be seen as an attack on the freedom of the press. The two-tier system with regard to the new wiretapping guidelines has also met with criticism. While clergymen, defense lawyers and members of parliament may not be wiretapped under any circumstances, access to the content of the conversation is permitted by journalists, doctors and lawyers with judicial approval.

In the course of terrorism, there are demands from CDU politicians like Siegfried Kauder to restrict the freedom of the press in Germany in order to prevent terrorist attacks .

Like freedom of expression , freedom of the press can only be restricted by general laws .


Censorship of books was already in place in 411 BC. In Athens , which culminated in the burning of books by the philosopher Protagoras .

The first law to abolish censorship was introduced in England in 1695. The measure avoided the concept of freedom of the press. It took place when the English parliament, at the request of the humanists John Milton and John Locke, no longer extended the censorship statute.

The word press, which is widespread in the German-speaking area, has been in use since the middle of the 18th century for “totality of newspapers and magazines” after it previously meant “totality of printed matter”. From the second half of the 18th century there was then the concept of freedom of the press ( spelled freedom of the press at that time ). In the 18th century, freedom of the press was viewed in Germany as a more formal legal term that authoritatively licensed the printing of newspapers . It was only when politics became the target of press criticism alongside religion that restrictive measures against the press began. In this respect, the idea of ​​freedom of the press is closely related to the development of the press and emerged from the writers' revolt against censorship . Württemberg was the first German state to introduce freedom of the press in 1864.

In Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein , absolute freedom of the press was introduced by Johann Friedrich Struensee in 1770 , but this was again severely restricted in 1799.

In the course of the American Revolution, u. a. the Virginia Declaration of Rights 1776 freedom of the press as an inalienable human right , in 1789 freedom of the press was incorporated into the Bill of Rights of the newly founded USA. This was preceded by the proceedings in the USA against the German-born publisher John Peter Zenger , who was acquitted in 1735 of the charge of defamation, which laid the foundation for freedom of the press in North America. In 1791, in an amendment to the constitution, Congress prohibited any interference by the legislative organs in restricting freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The freedom of the press, opinion, assembly and religion since 1789/91 by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (First Amendment) de jure officially unrestricted; State non-interference is explicitly guaranteed ("Congress will not pass any law [...] that restricts freedom of speech [...] or that of the press."). The founding fathers of the United States understood from the beginning the fundamental importance of a free press for a free democracy: “If it were up to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I shouldn't hesitate for a moment. the latter is preferable, ”said Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

France followed on August 26, 1789.

In Germany

The naughty children , German caricature from 1849: The "naughty" children chastised by the schoolmaster include freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the right to petition and the right of free assembly.

In German, the term press freedom first appeared in 1774 as a perception of British press practice.

The German Federal Act also became the legal guarantor of freedom of the press in 1815:

" At its first meeting , the Federal Assembly will deal with the drafting of uniform rulings on the freedom of the press and the safeguarding of the rights of writers and publishers against reprinting."

But as early as 1819, censorship was reintroduced as part of the Karlovy Vary resolutions . If articles were censored by newspapers, this meant the confiscation of an entire issue, which meant that the financial losses for the publishers were relatively high. The printing works therefore shifted the censorship from outside to inside , so they prevented such seizures by adapting to the censorship requirements during production. Publishers whose newspapers were nevertheless confiscated increasingly took refuge in books, as fonts of more than 20 sheets were not subject to pre-censorship. In 1832, the press law in Baden of 1831, which had forbidden “all censorship of printed matter”, was declared null and void.

During the revolution of 1848/49 in Germany, the freedom of the press was again demanded. The draft law stated:

"The freedom of the press may under no circumstances and in no way be restricted, suspended or repealed by preventive measures, namely censorship, concessions, security orders, state requirements, restrictions on printing or bookshops, post bans or other obstacles to free movement."

Even if the Paulskirche constitution never came into force, censorship was not reintroduced for the time being. In 1854, the first federal law was created that established freedom of the press with certain restrictions.

In the constitution of the German Empire of 1871, the freedom of the press is just as little mentioned as other basic rights. With the Reich Press Act of 1874, freedom of the press was legally regulated for the first time in Germany , but it was again restricted by the enactment of the " Law against the Social Democracy's Public- Dangerous Endeavors " in 1878.

20th and 21st centuries

After severe shocks to the freedom of the press in the Weimar Republic , as was evident for example from the “ World Stage Trial ”, it came to a complete standstill as a result of the National Socialist policy of conformity .

During the Allied administration of Germany there were licensed newspapers . Every newspaper needed a ( license ) from the military administration .

After its founding in 1949, freedom of the press in the Federal Republic of Germany was not restored without legal controversy, as the example of the so-called Lex Soraya shows.

Although officially there was no censorship in the GDR, there was in fact no freedom of the press, as the publication of newspapers and magazines required a state license and the corresponding content was specified by the state press office and books required printing permits. Thus, in all cases , the dictatorial state decided what was published.

Freedom of the press and press concentration

The issue of internal erosion due to increasing press concentration and pressure on returns in the media houses also belongs to the subject of freedom of the press . In the case of less (appropriately) paid journalistic work, it can be assumed that the most likely well-established journalists can also be critical.

Internal and external freedom of the press

In a letter to the editor in Spiegel on May 5, 1965, Paul Sethe , one of the five founding publishers of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote :

“Freedom of the press is the freedom of 200 rich people to express their opinions… As the production of newspapers and magazines requires ever greater capital, the number of people who publish press organs is shrinking. So our dependency is getting bigger and more dangerous ... "

With this, Sethe emphasizes the difference between external freedom of the press (the rights of the media as a whole or their representatives vis-à-vis third parties) and internal freedom of the press (the rights of journalists within the media, i.e. their independence from instructions from superiors or clients) of viewing. The norm of tendency protection obliges journalists of the private media to be loyal to their employer or client.

Violent repression of the freedom of the press

In the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and in the Kosovo war, many journalists died.

The annual number of journalists and media assistants killed worldwide has increased significantly since 2004 (the Iraq war began in March 2003). In 2004, 56 reporters died while doing their jobs, 23 of them in Iraq, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said . From 2003 to 2006 the Arab broadcaster al-Arabija lost eight employees in Iraq; they were killed partly by the US Army and partly by insurgents.

For 2006, Reporters Without Borders reported 85 journalists and 32 media assistants killed. Around half of the murdered journalists (36 journalists) and more than two thirds of the killed media assistants (24 media assistants) died in Iraq.

In 2010, according to the organization, 37 journalists and two media assistants have been killed while doing their jobs (as of 11/2010).

Freedom of the press and embedded journalism

Freedom of the press was debated in 2003 because of the 600 or so media representatives who were officially taken along by the USA to the Iraq war as “ embedded journalists ”.

Freedom of the press in international comparison

Freedom of the press, according to Reporters Without Borders, 2020
  • Good location
  • Satisfactory location
  • Identifiable problems
  • Difficult situation
  • Very serious situation
  • The non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders criticized in its “ Ranking list of press freedom 2008” that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the leading democratic states have been destabilized and that in these countries, too, freedoms have been further restricted. Dictatorships have benefited from conflicts and wars waged in the name of the fight against terrorism. Religious and political taboos have a growing influence. (see also Mohammed cartoons ).

    The “prison census 2010” of the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 145 imprisoned journalists. In 2008, online journalists and bloggers were the group most affected by repression for the first time .

    In its annual report " Freedom of the Press 2009", the organization Freedom House noted for the seventh time in a row that global press freedom was being restricted. For the first time, deteriorations were noted in all regions of the world examined.

    The relationship between freedom of the press and citizen journalism (example: OhmyNews model ) is still unclear.

    On Reporters Without Borders' 2016 Press Freedom Index , Finland, the Netherlands and Norway came in first three places out of 180 countries. While freedom of the press enjoys a relatively high priority in western countries and is largely guaranteed, freedom of the press is significantly restricted in most developing countries and many emerging countries . In the annual ranking of countries according to the degree of press freedom, the Press Freedom Index , compiled by the organization Reporters Without Borders , the remaining socialist states occupy lower places. According to this report , the countries with the least freedom of the press are Eritrea , followed by North Korea and Turkmenistan . In 2011, there were government efforts to restrict press freedom in South Africa.

    According to Reporters Without Borders' 2014 Press Freedom Index, press freedom dropped dramatically in 2014. In 120 of 180 states, the organization sees less freedom for opinion and the media than in the previous year.


    Tabloid journalism was limited by the decision of the ECHR in the Bédat / Switzerland case. This decision is, however, very controversial from a legal point of view.

    France - historical development and current issues

    The German-language weekly Relation by the printer Johann Carolus is considered the first newspaper in the world and was published in Strasbourg in 1605. France is also the country of origin of the daily newspaper, a journal is written by journalists and comes from the French term for day: jour . In France, appeared with La Gazette in 1631 one of the first periodicals, 1835, the first news agency here Agence Havas founded in 1863 and the first tabloid published Le Petit Journal of Moïse Millaud , which soon reached a million copies. Since Charles de Gaulle's constitutional amendment for the Fifth French Republic , the role of journalists has been established as affirmative. The media are obliged by constitutional decree to support the respective government policies. The techniques for investigative research or controversial interviews are not included in the training of journalists, such as the Center de Formation des Journalistes (CFJ), which most editors in the state media have completed. That is why more and more journalists are turning to online media.

    The minority media of the Bretons, Corsicans or Alsatians are systematically disadvantaged today. You will not receive funding that is customary in Germany and Eastern European countries. Government agencies try, for example, with various means to prevent the more than 1 million German-speaking Alsatians from publishing purely native-language media. Until recently, this was even a criminal offense. Sports and youth news in particular should not appear in German. France does not officially recognize that there are minorities within its borders. That is why the Paris central government has not ratified the European Minority Charter or the European Charter for Regional Languages ​​until today.

    Another impairment of freedom of the press is the concentration of capital in the media; most media publishers are controlled by a few capital owners. Media entrepreneurs such as the arms manufacturers Lagardère and Dassault are accused of having been given preferential treatment for large government contracts before they were bought out. “A lot of the media belong to industrialists who are dependent on public contracts ,” such as Martin Bouygues , owner of the TF1 television station and contractor for state roads and bridges. Since the Sarkozy era , the extent of media control has reached a new dimension, symbolically evident in the press conferences and the traditional presidential interviews, for which only loyal journalists are selected and the questions are recommended. When journalists report misconduct on the part of the French state bureaucracy, they face increasing frequency of house searches and pre-trial detention .

    The media reform law, which came into force on January 5, 2009, was accused by opposition politicians and journalist associations of further restricting the freedom of the press. It was France's biggest media reform since 1987, when TF1 was privatized . The advertising income for the public broadcasters should gradually be discontinued by the end of 2010 and fees for Internet and mobile phone providers should be offered as compensation. However, it was later decided that there should be no absolute advertising ban before 2014.

    Sarkozy, however, rejected a simple increase in the license fee. In addition, from now on the President will appoint the two directors of the public broadcasters for radio and television. On April 3, 2009, Radio France boss Jean-Paul Cluzel was dismissed by Sarkozy because of his allegedly open commitment to homosexuality . Journalists see the morning satirical broadcast by humorist and voice imitator Stéphane Guillon on France Inter as the real reason for Cluzel's dismissal . On November 25, 2008, workers at the affected broadcasters went on a one-day protest strike. They feared that the state would not fully compensate for the loss of advertising income and accused Sarkozy of only helping his friend, best man, godfather and TF1 owner Martin Bouygues.

    England / Great Britain historical and "right to information"

    England was the first country to introduce freedom of the press in 1695. This measure (which the concept of freedom of the press still avoided) carried by the English Parliament the censorship - statute did not extend more. In doing so, Parliament followed a request by the humanists John Milton and John Locke .

    After information leaked in the 1990s that British warships had nuclear weapons on board during the Falklands War , the British daily The Guardian demanded clarification. After the British government repeatedly refused to provide information, the newspaper sued for the right to information and, after years of litigation, was right. On December 5, 2003, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that several ships had nuclear weapons on board during the war (see: Nuclear weapons in the Falklands War ).


    see freedom of the press in Austria


    see freedom of the press in Russia


    In Sweden , the government made press work more difficult by deviating from the publicity principle and, from October 2015 , using an internal police rule known as Code 291 to refrain from publishing information about suspects and crime victims until charges were brought. This procedure was tightened further in October 2016, and information was only published when suspects began to be pre-trial detained. Observers concluded that the government does not want to provide arguments for xenophobic riots to opponents of its refugee policy, for which it is under pressure during the refugee crisis in Europe from 2015 , by concealing the involvement of refugees in criminal offenses with the regulations.


    In the context of the cartoon series The Face of Muhammad , the lawsuit brought by the Spanish royal family against two cartoonists was a particularly political issue. The court agreed with the public prosecutor's assessment that the satirical illustration of "heir to the throne Felipe and wife naked while trying to reproduce the royal species" was a "degrading and unnecessarily insulting representation of the prince couple" and "was suitable for the prestige of the crown and thus the damage the entire Spanish nation in an irreparable way. ”The court sentenced the cartoonists to a fine of 3,000 euros each. The previous conviction associated with the conviction is the greater damage, so defender Jordi Plana.


    See freedom of the press in Turkey

    Mexico (current drug war)

    Mexico is one hand formally as a parliamentary democracy , on the other hand, the state was in 2008 in a study by the US Joint Forces Command because of already several years of drug war as a failed state ( Failed State designated) and Pakistan compared. Nearly 50 reporters have been killed in Mexico since 2000, and at least five journalists were killed in 2008. Today (2009) Mexico is considered to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world after Iraq . The Mexican Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) blames the state security forces for many attacks, while the most brutal attacks on journalists were carried out by drug cartels .

    People's Republic of China

    In the People's Republic of China , journalists must obtain authorization for interviews. This is usually denied when it comes to issues such as peasant uprisings in the countryside, dam construction projects, mine accidents and other "difficult" issues. For foreign journalists, working on investigative topics is difficult; the organization Reporters Without Borders (ROG) called them life-threatening for Chinese journalists in 2001. ROG are (as of April 2016) 23 imprisoned journalists and 84 imprisoned online activists or citizen journalists.


    In the Meiji period in the period 1869 to 1883 and in the time of the Taishō emperor in the period from 1912 to 1926, there were very far-reaching freedom for the press. In the 1930s, the weakening and elimination of the freedom of the press was the prelude to the elimination of the then young democracy and the preparation for a war of aggression ( Pacific War 1937–1945). Freedom of the press was legally enshrined in the post-war constitution, which came into force in 1947.

    The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is preparing (as of November 2013) a law “to protect specially marked state secrets”. It plans to punish whistleblowers in government or administration more severely. Journalists and the opposition vehemently criticize the plans.

    West Papua

    In 2002, foreign journalists were banned from entering West New Guinea , which was annexed by Indonesia in 1963 , so that "the unity and cohesion of Indonesia are not endangered," the official statement said. Some Jakarta correspondents have been granted entry permits but are not allowed to report on politics or human rights issues. Juwono Sudarsono, Minister of Defense 2004–2009 under President Yudhoyono , cited 2006 as the motive for banning all foreign media, churches and human rights organizations that their presence in West Papua would “encourage human rights campaigns”.


    With the initial issue date January 2, 2020 was the German Post AG , a postage stamp in the nominal value of 95 euro cents on the subject of freedom of the press out. The design comes from the graphic artist Christoph Niemann from Berlin.

    International press law organizations

    See also


    Web links

    Wiktionary: Freedom of the press  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
    Commons : Freedom of the press  - collection of images, videos and audio files

    Individual evidence

    1. Kurt Koszyk, Karl Hugo Pruys: Dictionary for journalism . Lexicon article "Freedom of the press". Walter de Gruyter, 1970, ISBN 978-3-11-168702-5 ( [accessed June 25, 2017]).
    2. ^ Jürgen Habermas:  Structural change of the public. Investigations into a category of civil society . 5th edition, Neuwied / Berlin 1971
    3. On the history of press freedom. Retrieved June 25, 2017 (English).
    4. Wolfgang Duchkowitsch, Fritz Hausjell, Walter Hömberg, Arnulf Kutsch, Irene Neverla: Journalism as Culture: Analyzes and Essays . Springer-Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-322-87316-3 , p. 73 ff . ( [accessed June 25, 2017]).
    5. ^ A b c Werner Weber: Internal freedom of the press as a constitutional problem . Duncker & Humblot, 1973, ISBN 978-3-428-42889-2 , pp. 8 ( [accessed June 25, 2017]).
    6. ^ Sarah Niblock: Media Professionalism and Training . Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, ISBN 978-1-137-36842-3 , pp. 75 ( [accessed June 30, 2017]).
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    8. Martin Welker, Andreas Elter, Stephan Weichert: Freedom of the press without borders? Limits to freedom of the press . BoD - Books on Demand, 2016, ISBN 978-3-86962-223-1 , pp. 234 f . ( [accessed June 25, 2017]).
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