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Germany – (C2) Independence of the news media from power holders

Score in short:

Independence from power holders is guaranteed by law and widely respected, though there are some minor cases of potential owner influence.

Score in detail:

In Germany, freedom of the press is guaranteed by constitutional law (Art. 5 Grundgesetz) and has been fostered by the jurisdiction of the federal constitutional court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) over the past fifty years (Branahl 2006, pp. 15-18; Fechner 2008, p. 33; 268). Article 5 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of access to information and the absence of censorship. In an Interstate Agreement on Broadcast Services (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag), both governmental and state non-intervention in broadcasting are described in detail. The commission for the control of concentration in the media system (KEK) criticized a 2008 renewed passage of this contract. KEK argues that §20 of the contract does not completely ensure that the state or the government cannot exert influence on broadcasters and programmes. Companies that are at least to a certain degree owned by the state, like Deutsche Telekom, are not excluded as broadcasters. Hence, KEK reports for 2008 three minor cases of specialized TV programmes in which the state, by virtue of its shareholding in Deutsche Telekom and Investitionsbank Berlin, may have exerted influence on the media (KEK 2009, pp. 345-347).

With regard to independence of the news media from power holders, only two cases can be reported. First, let us look at Deutsche Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft (DDVG), a printing and publishing house owned by the Social Democratic Party (SPD): although DDVG is one of the top ten publishing companies in Germany, their market share (2.4 %) is comparatively small (Röper 2008, p. 421). DDVG mostly owns regional and local newspapers, but in 2008 it also held a 40 % share of Druck- und Verlagshaus Frankfurt am Main GmbH, which publishes the national quality newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau (DDVG Geschäftsbericht 2008). Second, since 2006, after the sale of ProSiebenSat1-Media AG to the top publishing house (Springer) was prohibited by the German competition authority, this broadcasting company was sold to the financial investors Permira and KKR by the businessman Haim Saban. Thus a non-media company gained control over some news broadcasts like the SAT1-News and the commercial news channel n24. But these broadcasts are small in reach: SAT1-News has a market share of about 6 %, n24 about 1 % (Zubayr & Gerhards 2009; KEK 2009, pp. 339). In 2007, Berliner Verlag, which owns several regional newspapers, was sold to the financial investor David Montgomery and his commercial equity firm Mecom. Montgomery and Mecom finally sold Berlin Verlag in 2009, because the company needed money in the wake of the international financial crisis. Berliner Verlag was sold to the media group DuMont, which today owns quite a high portfolio of regional newspapers.

All leading editors we interviewed rejected any attempts of interference by power holders or politicians. No case was reported. On the contrary, all of our journalistic interview partners were convinced that the management would back them against such attempts. The German media system is widely characterized by distancing itself from the state (Hallin & Mancini 2009, p. 197), and the journalist culture contributes actively to the value of keeping one’s distance from power holders (Hanitzsch & Seethaler 2009).