The Constitutional Court Expands Protection for Journalists & Sources

The Federal Constitutional Court today issued a ruling in the Cicero magazine case, which I have been following for a while. In April of 2005, Cicero, a German political magazine, published an article about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Iran. The article was based in part on confidential documents generated by the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA, or Federal Office of Criminal Investigation).

After the BKA was unable to determine the source of the leaked documents, Interior Minister Otto Schily authorized a search of the magazine’s officers and the residence of its publisher, Bruno Schirra, on the basis of being an accessory to the betrayal of state secrets. According to this article (G) in the FAZ, the Court ruled the searches unconstitutional. Any betrayal of state secrets was committed by whomever originally took the document from the BKA, not by the journalists who eventually obtained access to it. By the time they got the document, the crime had already been committed and they could no longer be accessories to it. (In fact, the local court later declined to authorize a trial against the journalists involved for betrayal of state secrets, holding that there was insufficient proof of the charge.)

The court held that the mere suspicion that a journalist may have been an accomplice to betrayal of state secrets could not serve as the basis for a comprehensive search of his offices. Further, conducting intrusive searches merely to try to pin down an informant’s identity is disproportionate and impermissible. Publishers’ groups are hailing the judgment, but also calling for new legislative guidelines to reflect the court’s balancing of interests and improve protection for sources.

I don’t have much comment on this just now except to say "me like freedom of press very much," but I thought I’d pass it along. 

2 thoughts on “The Constitutional Court Expands Protection for Journalists & Sources

  1. The publisher of “Cicero” is Wolfram Weimer. Bruno Schirra is a freelance journalist, and he wrote the article that quoted the BKA paper.

  2. Now completely drunk, I’ll take to some pestering, and on a flimsy pretext, as its about fritzy, not froggy sensibilities we’re supposed to deal here: while the German court was brave, the French Constitutional Council was not. It bans citizen journalists from reporting violence, supposedly to prevent happy slapping, which could be a good thing. However, reporters sans frontières feel that the law will lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images.

    Honni soit, qui mal y pense—riots anyone? Obviously not, not on the web. But that can’t happen over here, though obviously Islamophobic Hauptschul teachers are given publicity on the pages of notorious instigator taz, and we know, where this agitation will lead to.

    The Chinaman in me says “me like freedom of press very much,” so I thought I’d pass it along.

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