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Press freedom laws planned to protect whistleblowers

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Press freedom laws planned to protect whistleblowers
Scene from ''All the President's men,'' about Watergate. Photo: DPA
13:47 CEST+02:00
Journalists who publish leaked government information would be able to protect their sources from exposure under planned laws to enshrine stronger press freedom, the German Justice Ministry has announced.

In comments previewed on Saturday, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger foreshadowed laws that would enable journalists to keep secret the identity of sources of government leaks – even if the leaks constitute breaches of state secrets.

“Members of the media must be able to do their job, keeping an eye on state activities and exposing failures, freely and unhindered,” she told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Therefore she was drafting laws to “strengthen press freedom,” under which journalists could no longer be prosecuted for refusing to give up their sources. Also, rules surrounding confiscation of journalists' source material and documents would be tightened, she said.

In drafting the bill, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has used as a guideline the recommendations of the Constitutional Court in the so-called “Cicero case.”

In 2005, police raided the office of Cicero magazine after it published details of a classified terrorism report from the Federal Criminal Police (BKA). Cicero took legal action and, eventually, Germany's highest court ruled that journalists had a right to protect their sources.

The court ruled that journalists' offices and homes could not be searched because they themselves had not broken any law and in fact had a right to the confidentiality of their information.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said her draft bill was still being examined by other ministries, though she expected no objections, given the press freedom laws had been agreed upon in coalition negotiations between the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. She expected the Cabinet to consider the laws before the summer break.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she viewed the draft bill as part of her plan for a “new direction in justice policy” that strengthened citizens' rights.

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