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Germany slips four places in press freedom rankings

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Germany slips four places in press freedom rankings
Photo: DPA
10:04 CEST+02:00
Germany fell by four places in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, released on Wednesday, after more and more journalists came under attack at right-wing demonstrations in 2015.

The Bundesrepublik, nevertheless, came in at a respectable 16th place, placing behind other northern European countries, such as Finland which topped the list once again, but scoring markedly better than the USA (41) and France (45).

In the report the reasons given for Germany's slip down the ranking were threats against journalists from the general public rather than greater restrictions imposed by the state.

“Violence and hostility all the way up to death threats against journalists massively increased in Germany in 2015,” the report states.

In total Reporters Without Borders counts 39 violent attacks on journalists during the course of the year “especially at demonstrations put on by Pegida and its regional offshoots, at right-wing demonstrations or at protests put on by those opposing them.”

But Ulrike Gruska, spokeswoman for Reporters Without Borders, told The Local that the state had also made significant attacks on press freedom throughout 2015.

A law passed in October requiring telecoms companies to retain details of Germans' communications for 10 weeks does not sufficiently protect journalists, who as part of their job often need to keep sources anonymous, she said.

A clause within the law on dealing in stolen data could also make journalists' sources vulnerable to prosecution by the state, Reporters Without Borders suggest.

Gruska mentioned a now notorious case of Germany's internal intelligence service filing a treason case against the website netzpolitik in July of last year after it published classified documents it received in a leak.

“This was the first time in thirty years that a treason prosecution had been opened, it was a clear signal to others,” said Gruska.

Ever since Edward Snowden released a cache of files about the inner working of the American intelligence service the NSA in 2013, German authorities have increasingly gone after journalists' sources, Gruska said.

Freedom of expression

A debate has recently flared in Germany over freedom of expression, after Jan Böhmermann, a popular comedian, read out a “slanderous poem” about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan live on air in which he accused him of having sex with goats and watching child pornography.

Böhmermann said that he was explaining what real defamation looks like to the Turkish President after he complained of a satirical song broadcast by TV show Extra 3.

But his poem triggered a political crisis after Erdogan formally asked the German government to investigate Böhmermann for the antique crime of "insulting a foreign head of state".

Chancellor Angela Merkel finally decided to allow prosecutors to look into the case against Böhmermann, in a move widely-criticized as a sop to Erdogan to save the EU's refugee deal with Turkey.

Turkey slipped to place 151 of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders ranking, below Russia which came in at place 148.

Several times over the year “censorship was imposed, editorial boards were put under imposed state control, foreign journalists were arrested and critical reporters were attacked through the courts,” the report states of the government in Ankara.

Globally, Reporters Without Borders said that press freedoms were on the retreat, as in many regions journalists feared for their lives due to threats from religious extremists, or had to work around ever tighter security laws.
 
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