PUBLICISTIC PRINCIPLES (PRESS CODE)
Drawn up by the German Press Council in collaboration with the press associations and presented to Federal
President D. Dr. Dr.Gustav W. Heinemann on 12 December 1973 in Bonn. Last updated version of 23 February
The freedom of the press guaranteed in the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany embraces independence and freedom of information, expression of opinion and criticism. Publishers, editors and journalists pursuing their profession must remain constantly aware of their responsibility towards the general public and their duty to uphold the prestige of the press.
They must perform their publicistic duties to the best of their ability and belief and must not allow their work to be influenced by personal interests or extraneous motives.
These publicistic principles are designed to preserve professional ethics; they do not constitute grounds for legal liability.
Respect for the truth and accurate informing of the general public are the overriding principles of the press.
Guideline 1.1. Exclusive agreements
Public information about events or developments whose significance, import and implications make them of general interest and vital for the formation of political views and public opinion must not be restricted or impeded by exclusive agreements with informants or measures which screen such informants from the public domain. Anyone seeking to monopolize information prevents other members of the press acquiring important news and thus acts contrary to the principle of the freedom of the information.
Guideline 1.2. Election campaign reporting
In the interests of journalistic fairness, freedom of information for the public and equality of opportunity for the democratic parties, newspapers and magazines covering election campaigns should also publish views which they do not share themselves. A similar policy should be adopted towards advertising matter, which is also covered by the fundamental precept of press freedom.
Guideline 1.3. Press releases
Press releases issued by government agencies, political parties, associations, organizations or other representative bodies must be identified as such if they are published unedited.
News and information accepted for text or pictorial publication must be checked for accuracy with all the thoroughness circumstances permit. Its meaning must not be distorted of falsified by editing, headings or captions. The content of documents must be faithfully reproduced. Unconfirmed reports, rumours and assumptions must be identifiable as such.
Where a symbolic photograph is published, it must be made clear in the caption that it is not a documentary picture.
Guideline 2.1. Opinion polls
The German Press Council recommends that news agencies, newspapers and magazines publising findings by opinion poll institutes should indicate the number of people interviewed, the dates on which the poll was conducted and the identity of the poll's sponsor.
Where no sponsor is involved, reports should point out that the data was collected at the instigation of the opinion poll institute itself.
Guideline 2.2. Symbolic photographs
A non-documentary illustration - especially a photograph - which the casual reader might mistake for a documentary illustration must be marked accordingly. The following must thereforebe clearly identified or described in captions or accompanying text to ensure that they are not misinterpreted even by a casual reader:
- substitute or indicative illustrations (same motif on different occasion, different motif on same occasion, etc)
- symbolic illustrations (reconstructed scenes, graphic representations, artists' impressions of events described in text etc.)
-photomontages or other alterations.
Guideline 2.3. Advance reviews
Newspapers and magazines publishing advance reviews which summarize the contents of forthcoming publications and may be disseminated by news agancies are legally and professionally responsible for ensuring the accuracy of those reviews. Omissions or additions must not distort the basic tenor of the previewed publication or permit incorrect conclusions which could be detrimental to the legitimate interests of third parties.
Guideline 2.4. Interviews
An interview is always within the bounds of journalistic propriety if it is authorized by the interviewee or his proxy. Under circumstances of exceptional time pressure, it is also acceptable for comments to be published in unauthorized interview form as long as interviewees are aware of the intention to publish the wording or gist of their statements.
Journalists should always identify themselves as such.
An interview orally or in written form is not mere news material but a work protected by copyright, especially if it contains critical appraisals or comments which lend it a personal stamp. When such interviews are reproduced in full or in part, the publising newspaper or magazine must indicate the source. Even where the essence of the thoughts expressed is paraphrased, journalistic propriety requires that the source should be indicated.
Where interviews are announced in resume form, it must be borne in mind that interviewees, as co-authors, are protected against distortions or detractions which could jeopardise their legitimate personal or copyright interests (see also Guidelines 2.3 and 11.4).
Guideline 2.5. Release deadlines
Release deadlines postponing the publication of specific news items are only justifiable if they are in the interests of objective and accurate reporting. Their observance is basically a matter for voluntary agreement between informants and media. Release deadlines should only be observed if there is a legitimate reason for doing so, as in the case of the text of a speech which has not yet been delivered, advance copies of corporate annual reports or information about events scheduled for a future date (meetings, resolutions, award ceremonies, etc.). Release deadlines imposed for mere advertising purposes should not be entertained.
Guideline 2.6. Readers' letters
(1) Periodicals should publish readers' letters - of appropriate form and content - to give readers an opportunity to air their views and help form public opinion. In this way, a newspaper can promote discussion of its own editorial line, stimulate public debate and foster personal initiative.
(2) Correspodance addressed to publishers or editorial departments of a newspaper or magazine can be published as readers' letters if it is evident from the form and content that this is in accordance with the sender's wishes. The sender's consent can be assumed if a letter refers to articles published by the newspaper or magazine concerned or to matters of general interest. Readers have no legal right to have their letters published.
(3) It is both proper and common practice to publish reader's names along with their letters. By the very act of sending a letter, a reader gives tacit consent to the publication of his or her name.
(4) Only in exceptional cases can a different name be appended at the author's request.
(5) The obligation of the press to take care not to publish material of punishable content also applies to readers' letters. Under press laws, editors are co-responsible for readers' letters which contain derogatory allegations about identifiable third part..
(6) The publication of fictitious readers' letters represents deception of the public and is irreconcilable with the duty of the press. If there is any doubt about the origin of the letter, it is incumbent on the editor to check its authenticity.
(7) Where a reader's letter contains factual claims about a third party, that party is entitled under press law to reply to the allogations in print.
(8) The right of the press to refuse to give evidence also extends to the writers of reader's letters. A reader's letter published in a periodical is classified as editorial matter and privileges its author to refuse to give evidence.
(9) The laws protecting the general right of the individual basically prohibit the alteration or abridgement of letters from named correspondents without their consent. This also applies to letters which do not bear an "individual stamp" and are thus not protected by copyright. Letters can be shortened only if the "Reader's Letters" column contains a standard reference to the publisher's right to print letters in edited form. If the author of a letter expressly forbids alteration or abridgement, the editorial department addressed must either comply with the writer's wishes or refuse publication even if it has retained the edit reader's letters.
(10) All reader's letters arriving on an editor's desk are to be treated as confidential documents. Under no circumstances may they be passed on to third parties.
Published news reports or assertions subsequently found to be incorrect must be promptly and appropriately corrected by the publication concerned.
Guideline 3.1. Editorial corrections
An editorial correction must draw the reader's attention to the fact that the preceding report was wholly or partially incorrect. It must therefore contain not only the correct facts but also a reference to the incorrect report in question. Publication of the correct facts is required even if the error has already been publicly acknowledged elsewhere.
The duty to rectify an incorrect report lies with the editorial department. This duty is not fulfilled by merely prompting and publishing readers' letters.
Dishonest methods must not be employed to acquire news, information or pictures.
Guideline 4.1. Research
Research is a legitimate tool of publicistic work but must be conducted within the bounds of the constitution, the law and respect for human dignity. As a matter of principle, a researching journalist who makes untruthful statements about his identity or the identity of the publication he represents is guilty of conduct incompatible with the dignity and role of the press.
Covert research can be justified in individual cases if it brings to light information of special public interest which could not be obtained by other means.
In the case of accidents and disasters, the press shall bear in mind that rescue operations for victims and persons in jeopardy take precedence over the public's right to be informed.
Nor does the public's interest in being informed justify any unlawful acts committed by journalists to acquire news material.
As a general principle, confidentiality agreed at briefings and background interviews must be observed.
Guideline 5.1. Confidentiality
Where an informant agrees to supply information for publication only on condition that he or she remains unidentified and protected as a source, that stipulation shall be respected. A bond of confidentiality may only be broken where the information in question relates to the planning of a criminal act, in which case the journalist has a duty to report the matter to the authorities. Nor need confidentiality be observed if, after careful consideration of material and other interests, important reasons of state are deemed predominant. This situation can arise, in particular, if constitutional order is likely to be affected or endangered.
Reporting on plans and activities which are designated secret is permissable if, after careful consideration, the need to inform the public is found to outweigh the stated reasons for secrecy. This does not, however, justify the committing of unlawful acts to acquire information (see also Guideline 4.1).
All members of the press shall maintain professional confidentiality, excercise their right to refuse to give evidence and refrain from disclosing the identity of informants without their explicit consent.
Guideline 6.1. Intelligence service
Any journalist or publisher engaging in intelligence work damages the credibility of the press and undermines the trust placed in the profession.
Guideline 6.2. Separation of press and government duties
If a journalist enters the service of a government or government agency, all parties should take care to ensure that his or her press and official duties are kept strictly separate, especially where those official duties relate to media activity. The same applies to government officials who take up posts in journalism.
The clear separation - anchored in contracts of employment - is needed to avoid any semblance of divided loyalties or professional compromise which could damage the reputation and credibility of the media.
The responsibility of the press towards the general public precludes the publication of editorial matter which is influenced by the private or business interests of third parties. Publishers and editors must resist any attempts at such influence and ensure that editorial and advertising matter are kept clearly separate.
Advertising announcements, advertising photographs and advertising drawings should be identifiable as such.
Guideline 7.1. Separation of editorial material and advertising matter
Advertisements resembling editorial material must be printed in a script, position and form which clearly distinguish them from the editorial contents of a newspaper or magazine so that they are identifiable as advertising even to the casual reader. They must be clearly marked with the word "Advertisement".
If the sponsor is not clearly identified in the text of the advertisement, his name must be printed in clearly visible position. The same applies to advertising inserts and any other special publications financed by individuals, corporate bodies or institutions with a personal, commercial or political interest in their contents.
Where an insert or special publication contains articles of specialists who themselves have a vested interest in its dissemination, this must be indicated by references to their respective role. PR texts, which are intrinsically connected with advertising, must be labelled accordingly or laid out in a way which distinguishes them from the editorial contents of the host publication to ensure that they do not mislead the reader.
Guideline 7.2. Surreptitious advertising in editorial matter
"The publication of editorial matter referring to companies or their product, services or activities must not overstep the boundary between editorial freedom and surreptitious advertising. This boundary is patently transgressed, in particular, where the information published does not cater to a legitimate public interest or the reader's interest in being informed.
To maintain the credibility of the press as a source of information, editors must exercise special care when handling PR texts and phrasing editorial references. Special publications are subject to the same rules of editorial responsibility as all published editorial material."
The press shall respect the private life and personal sphere of the individual. If a person's private behaviour touches on public interests, however, it may be discussed in the press. In such cases, care must be taken to ensure that publication does not violate the personal rights of individuals who are not involved.
Guideline 8.1. Publication of names/ photographs
As a general rule, there is no justification for publishing the names and photographs of offenders or victims in reports on accidents, criminal offences, criminal investigations or court proceedings. In all such cases, care must be taken to weigh up the public's right to be informed and the personal rights of the individual concerned. Victims of accidents or crime are entitled to special protection from disclosure of their names. The identity of the victim is irrelevant for understanding the events surrounding an accident or crime unless it involves a person of contemporary history or occurs in circumstances touching on issues of wider public interest. In the case of relatives who have nothing to do with the incident, respect for their legitimate personal rights must, as a matter of principle, take precedence over the public's right to be informed. The names of individuals concerned and their families should also be protected in portrayals of criminal cases published after the death of the persons involved. In these cases, it is necessary to check whether the incident can be considered part of criminal history and the perpetrator a person of contemporary history (see also Guideline 13.2 and 13.3).
Guideline 8.2. Anniversaries
Before publishing details of anniversaries involving persons not normally in the public eye, editors must first check whether the individuals concerned agree to publication or wish to be protected from publicity.
Guideline 8.3. Illness
Physical and mental illnesses and disorders fall within the confidential sphere of the person concerned. Out of respect of the privacy for that person and his family, the press should refrain from publishing names and photographs in such cases and avoid using disparaging names for medical conditions or medical institutions even if such names are found in common parlance. Individuals - including persons of contemporary history - have a right to be protected from discriminating revelations both during their lifetime and after their death.
Guideline 8.4. Suicide
Restraing must be exercised when reporting on cases of suicide. This applies particularly to the publication of names and detailed descriptions of circumstances. Exceptions are only justifiable where the incident in question is of contemporary historical significance and general public interest.
Guideline 8.5. Political opposition and refugees
When reporting on countries where opposition to the government entails a risk to life and limb, journalists must always consider whether publishing names or photos could lead to the identification and persecution of the persons concerned. The same applies to reports on refugees. The publication of details identifying refugees, their escape routes and the manner in which they prepared and executed their escape might endanger the families and friends those refugees left behind or close escape channels for other refugees.
It is contrary to journalistic decorum to publish unfounded allegations, especially allegations of a defamatory nature.
The publication of text or pictures whose form or content could deeply offend the moral or religious sensibilities of a particular group of persons is incompatible with press responsibility.
Violence and brutality should not be sensationalized. Reporting must take due account of the need to protect young people.
Guideline 11.1. Threats and acts of violence
When reporting on threats or acts of violence, the press must carefully weigh up the public's interest in information against the interests of the victims and persons concerned. Reports on such events must be unbiased and authentic but the press must not become the tool of criminals or make any unauthorized attempt to mediate between criminals and police.
Guideline 11.2. Accidents and disasters
The bounds of acceptable reporting on accidents and disasters are exceeded where the suffering of victims and the feelings of their faminies cease to be respected. Those hit by misfortune must not bebome victims for a second time because of the tactless media coverage.
Guideline 11.3. Collaboration with authorities/ news blackouts
Without neglecting its fundamental duty to inform, the press should exercise restraint in reporting on threats of violence of any kind. Collaboration between media and police should only occur if the lives and health of victims or other persons involved can be protected or saved by journalists' actions. Where requests are received from criminal prosecuton authorities for a temporary, complete or partial cessation of reporting in the interests of crime detection, the press will comply with such requests provided they are backed by cogent arguments and are not connected with news blackouts by official agencies.
Guideline 11.4. Criminal memoirs
The publication of criminal memoirs can give alleged or convicted criminals a degree of publicity which is not warranted by the need to inform the public. The detailed description of criminal acts from the exclusive viewpoint of their perpetrator, who may still be in prison, is not compatible with the publicistic responsibilities of the press. Interviews must not be held with persons who are in the process of committing a crime.
There must be no discrimination against anyone on grounds of sex, race, ethnic background, religion, social group or nationality.
Guideline 12.1. Crime reporting
In crime reports, the fact that a suspect or offender belongs to a particular religious, ethnic or other minority should only be mentioned if the information is important for understanding the reported events.
Reports on cases under criminal investigation or subjudice must be devoid of all preconceived opinion. Before and during such proceedings, therefore, the press shall avoid making any comment in the heading or body of a report which could be construed as partisan or prejudical to the issue. An accused person must not be presented as a guilty party before legal judgement has been pronounced. Wherever possible in the case of minor offences committed by juveniles, names and identifying photographs should not be published out of consideration for the young persons' future. Court rulings should not be reported prior to their official announcement without sound legal justification.
Guideline 13.1. Criminal investigations and court proceedings, prejudgement of issues and follow-up reporting
The purpose of reporting on official investigations and court proceedings is to provide the general public with a thorough and unbiased account of the commission, prosecution and judgement of crimes. Until a court pronounces judgement, an accused person is presumed innocent.
Portrayals and assertions which prejudge a legal issue are in violation of the constitutional rules protecting human dignity, which also applies in full to offenders.
In the wording of reports, a clear distinction must be made between suspicion and proven guilty.
The portrayal of a suspect as a guilty party prior to the pronouncement of judgement is also prohibited in cases where a confession has been made.
Even if the identity of the person responsible for a crime is obvious to the general public, the person concerned must not be presented as the guilty party until a court verdict is announced.
Where the press reports on an appealable conviction and names or identifies the person concerned to a wide readership, it must also report on any subsequent appeal resulting in final acquittal or a significant quashing of charges, provided this does not conflict with the legitimate interests of the person concerned. This recommendation also applies to reports on criminal investigations which are subsequently discontinued.
Critical reports and commentaries on legal proceedings should be clearly distinguished from trial reports.
Guideline 13.2. Publication of names and photographs of suspects, offenders and victims When publishing names and photographs of suspects, offenders, victims and other persons affected by a crime, great care must be taken in weighing up the public's interest and the personal rights of the individuals concerned. Legitimate public interest, however, does not justify sensationalism.
The publication of the full names and/or photographs of suspects charged with a capital offence is only justified if this is in the interests of crime detection and the requirements for issuing a warrant of arrest are satisfied.
In any case where there are indications that the suspect may not be guilty, names and photographs should not be published.
As a matter of principle, it is not permissible to publish names and photographs of relatives or other affected persons who have nothing to do with a crime.
In the interests of resocialization, names and photographs must not appear in reports published after the conclusion of criminal proceedings (see also Guideline 8.1).
Guideline 13.3. Persons of contemporary history
Certain exceptions to the principles stated at 13.2. apply in the case of persons of contemporary history - including public office-holders and individuals with a public mandate - who are suspected, accused or convicted of an offence.
In the case of persons in public office or with a public mandate, the publication of names and photographs is admissible if there is a connection between their office or mandate and the offence in question.
In the case of persons of contemporary history who do not hold a public office or mandate, the publication of names and photographs may be justified if the offence with which they are charged is in contradiction to their public image.
Guideline 13.4. Juvenile crime
When reporting on juvenile crime and juvenile court proceedings, the press should exercise restraint out of consideration for the future of the young people concerned. This recommendation also applies to reports on juvenile victims of crime.
As a general tule, there is no objection to the publication of photographs and names of missing young persons. These should only be published, however, with the agreement of the relevant authorities.
In reports on medical issues, care must be taken to avoid undue sensationalism which could arouse baseless fears or hopes in the reader. Early research findings should not be presented as though they were conclusive or almost conclusive.
Guideline 14.1. Medical or pharmaceutical research
In reporting on alleged successes or failures of medical or pharmaceutical research aimed at controlling disease, the press exercise circumspection and responsibility. In both text and presentation, care must be taken to ensure that such reports do not convey a distorted image of the actual state of medical reserch and that undue hopes of a cure in the foreseeable future are not aroused in the sick and their families. Conversely, care must be taken to ensure that victims of disease are not disconcerted and the possible success of therapeutic measures called into question by critical or one-sided reports on controversial views.
The acceptance or granting of any kind of privilege which could impinge on publishing or editorial discretion is not compatible with the concept of a respectable, independent and responsible press. Anyone accepting bribes for the dissemination or suppression of news is guilty of dishonourable and unprofessional conduct.
Guideline 15.1. Invitations and gifts
Publishing and journalistic discretion can be impaired if editors and editorial staff accept invitations or gifts whose values exceeds the bounds of social convetion and professional etiquette.
(See also German Press Council statement of 21 February 1961 calling upon all press and business associations to take appropriate steps to uphold this principle.
See corresponding agreements between the German Journalists' Association and the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers of 17 October 1961 and the association of German Magazine Publishers of 9 January 1961.)
In the interests of fair reporting, public reprimands by the German Press Council should normally be published in the publication concerned.
Guideline 16.1. Publication of reprimands
The publication concerned must ensure that: the reader is informed of the circumstances which gave rise to the reprimand and the publicistic principle they violated.
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