After reaching a peak of 39 cases of attacks against journalists in 2015, this figure dropped to below 20 in 2016 and 2017. RSF Germany is concerned by a new surge and calls on the authorities to guarantee journalists’ safety.
RSF Germany will assess all documented reports of attacks at the end of the year, but the high number of eyewitness reports already points to a marked increase in the number of confirmed assaults in 2018.
Several journalists have told RSF Germany in the last two weeks that they had never before been exposed to as much hate and aggressiveness as during the protests in Chemnitz and a dozen of them were physically attacked while covering the events ( MDR, Der Spiegel, Watson online, Buzzfeed Germany, ARD and Funke media have reported attacks against their journalists) . The German city of Chemnitz has been the epicentre of fierce clashes at the beginning of the month where anti-migrant protests and counter-protests have escalated following the fatal stabbing of Daniel Hillig, a 35-year-old German-Cuban. RSF Germany does not yet have conclusively verified figures for the current year, but the already numerous reports from journalists indicate that the number of attacks against journalists for 2018 will be higher than for the two preceding years. The incidents occurred in several regions of Germany, not just in Saxony.
“The atmosphere at the protests in Chemnitz was more hostile to the media than we have experienced since the anti-Islam Pegida movement began in 2015. It is unacceptable that journalists in Germany have to fear for their own safety simply because they cover major public events,” said Michael Rediske, executive member of RSF Germany’s board of directors. It’s particularly alarming that in recent times large groups of people are increasingly targeting journalists at right-wing demonstrations, collectively insulting and harassing them. It is therefore all the more vital that police protect journalists and make it possible for them to do their work unimpeded,” Rediske added.
“Media law and dealing with journalists must be given special emphasis in police training, and it must be ensured that police officers put this into practice, ” Michael Rediske added.
REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS DOCUMENTS VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS
In 2015 RSF Germany registered a surge in violence against journalists for the first time in Germany. In that year, RSF Germany documented at least 39 violent assaults, most of which took place at the demonstrations of the Pegida movement and its regional branches or at far-right rallies or counter-demonstrations. Roughly two-thirds of the incidents documented by RSF Germany occurred in Saxony, with others registered in Berlin, Munich and other cities. The victims of these attacks were for the most part photographers, camera teams or reporters who had been standing outside the mobile units of radio and television broadcasters – in other words journalists who could easily be identified as such and who in the eyes of demonstrators symbolise the collectively denigrated “lying press”.
In the following two years, the numbers dropped significantly: in 2016 RSF Germany registered 18 acts of violence against journalists, all except two occuring at demonstrations staged by the Alternative for Germany party or one of the various branches of Pegida or right-wing extremist groups. In 2017 RSF Germany documented a total of 16 attacks against journalists, the majority of these incidents (11) occurred in connection with the protests before and during the G20 summit in July 2017 in Hamburg, where journalists were either attacked by demonstrators or hit by pepper spray and water cannons used by the police even though they were clearly identifiable as members of the media.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) also documented 16 cases of acts of violence with a right-wing motivation against journalists in 2016. For 2017 it documented 11 cases and for this year (up to August 17) it has registered 6.
POLICE MUST KNOW THE RIGHTS OF JOURNALISTS AND ENFORCE THEM
One improvement since 2015 is that there is now a greater awareness in politics of the fact that police officers should support media representatives in their journalistic activities. In its “Nahaufnahme” report on Germany in 2016, RSF Germany criticised that police officers often looked away or failed to intervene when journalists were prevented from doing their work. In some cases, however, the conduct of the police continues to be objectionable, as was the case recently when a team working for German public broadcaster ZDF in Dresden was prevented from doing its work.
A code of conduct for cooperation between police and media has existed for 25 years in Germany. For this code to be adhered to in practice, in addition to placing special emphasis on media law in police training, it is vital that politicians and authorities show the will to support police officers in putting this knowledge into practice.
This includes the frequently repeated argument that it is illegal to publish images of the faces of individual demonstrators without their consent. Under the German Copyright Act for Works of Art (KUG), images of contemporary events (including images of public demonstrations and their participants) are indeed allowed to be disseminated without the persons who appear in the images having given their consent. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which has been in effect since May 25 has not changed this. In the last few months, right-leaning demonstrators have repeatedly tried to limit media coverage of events, citing the GDPR and arguing that any images of them are personal data and therefore can no longer be used without their consent. In some cases, police officers have supported them when they used this argument.
Germany ranks 15th out of 180 states on the World Press Freedom Index.