Former Bild reporter fined for sex tape coercion

A Munich court has fined a former reporter for sensationalist daily Bild on Monday for crossing the legal boundaries of journalism by using a sex tape to coerce actor Ottfried Fischer into giving an exclusive interview.

Former Bild reporter fined for sex tape coercion
The actor Ottfried Fischer. Photo: DPA

After a single day of deliberations the court convicted the 29-year-old journalist of coercion and “injuring highly private personality rights,” fining him €14,400.

Two prostitutes and two middlemen, who were accused of scheming to shoot the video and sell it to the reporter, were fined between €600 and €3,600. All four confessed during the trial and apologised to the 56-year-old cabaret and television actor.

Bild publisher Axel Springer, which had said the trial was a threat to press freedoms, criticised the verdict, calling it “wrong and absolutely unacceptable for journalists and publishers.”

Judge Hilmar Buch said the prosecution had proved the Bild journalist had bought the sex tape of Fisher and the prostitutes for €3,500 in the summer of 2009, using it to pressure the actor to give an exclusive interview to the paper.

“As long as you only possess this CD, that is fine,” Judge Buch said. “But when you also use this CD to pressure someone, then it is no longer legal journalism. I don’t believe all journalists behave this way.”

Fischer told the court that without the video, he would never have given the interview to Bild, which he did not care to work with.

The journalist’s defence lawyers asked for their client’s acquittal, saying it was Fischer’s PR agent who had offered the interview and that the contents of the sex tap were not “editorially usable.”

Though a copy of the tape has never been found, prosecutors alleged that the agent and the 56-year-old Fischer, who plays a Catholic priest in the TV series Pfarrer Braun, felt forced to cooperate with the Bild journalist in the fear that it could destroy his career.

In the interview that ran under the headline, “The whores are exploiting my illness,” Fischer discussed his battle with Parkinson’s disease and his dealings with the prostitutes, who had allegedly committed fraud with his credit card.

They allegedly forged his signature for credit card charges totalling some €74,000, a matter which will be dealt with in a separate case.

Just before Christmas in 2009 Fischer took his allegations of blackmail to the public prosecutor’s office.

The German media is calling the case a unique look into how tabloids attempt to manipulate celebrities.

Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday that Fischer’s agent, experienced in the industry, said that Bild’s alleged behaviour was standard among German tabloids.

According to news magazine Der Spiegel a conviction in the case would mean a “black day” for Bild.

“Because then everyone could claim that a journalist for this paper had used criminal methods,” the magazine wrote, adding that there had been repeated rumours of such behaviour in the past.

Fischer was reportedly determined to take on the country’s biggest paper in a “campaign for justice,” his lawyer Florian Ufer told the magazine.

But after the verdict publisher Axel Springer said only an acquittal would have been the right choice, calling the prosecution’s accusations “weak” in a statement.

“We hope that the next level of jurisdiction will review this decision,” the publisher said.

The Local/DPA/DAPD/ka

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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said “it is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”