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Germany – (E7) Code of ethics at the national level (structure)

Score in short:

A national code of ethics exists, is implemented and widely used.

Score in detail:

The German state fosters diligence in research at the level of each federal state through specific press laws (Landespressegesetze). These laws formulate a clearly defined public mission for the press, and derive/infer specific requirements from that public mission. For example, the North Rhine-Westphalian press law determines that the press has to deliver news, to comment on these and thereby contribute to shaping public opinion (LPGNRW §1); moreover, it obliges journalists to check all published information carefully (§6). Lastly, federal states and national government have agreed on a kind of mission statement (Programmauftrag) for public broadcasting services, which is implemented by contract (Medienstaatsvertrag), and which insists on fair, balanced, impartial reporting and underlines the importance of a diversity of opinions. These specific press laws are accompanied by a nationwide – but voluntary – code of ethics. The so-called Pressecodex establishes 16 journalistic standards, such as, §1 “Truthfulness and respect for human dignity,” §2 “Diligence,” and §7 “Separation of news and advertising.” This codex was established by the German Press Council (Deutscher Presserat), whose members are the main newspaper publishers and unions, so it can be assumed that the codex is well-known and put into practice, which is confirmed by out interview partners from the journalists unions. To underpin this assumption, here are some figures (Tab. 10) from the most comprehensive survey of German journalists:

Table 10. Journalists’ self-image / implementation, i.e. approval to the statement “neutral and precise information of the public”

  TV Radio Newspaper Online
Self-image 87 % 94 % 92 % 81 %
Implementation 77 % 80 % 78 % 63 %

Source: Weischenberg, Malik, & Scholl 2006, pp. 280-281.

Two complaints committees are part of the press council: the general complaints committee with two chambers and the complaints committee for editorial data protection. In 2008, the committees received 779 complaints. In the end, they dealt with 294 complaints (Presserat) and decided that 116 of them were baseless. Only in 15 cases did the complaints committee declare a public reprimand. In the view of the journalists’ union, DJV, the press council does a good job. Because a legal framework providing ethical and journalistic standards for news coverage does not exist, the German Press Council exerts voluntary self-control of the press. Besides the council there are some initiatives made by journalists. First, there is an initiative for journalistic quality initiated by the biggest journalist’s union (DJV), and second, there is the so-called Netzwerk Recherche, a lobbying organization promoting investigative journalism.