Scandal Bruised Crusader of Media Freedom

Charges of treason filed by Germany's chief prosecutor against journalists of a political blog are an embarrassment to the nation's history of a free and unfettered press and is attracting scorn from around the world.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas still has some explaining to do after firing his top prosecutor.


It has come this far. The disastrous investigation of journalists with the Internet blog Netzpolitik, who were accused of treason by Germany's top prosecutor, has grabbed the world's attention.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, jumped into the fray by demanding an end to the investigations of the blog's operators. The organization, which includes representatives from 57 participating countries, told German officials the threat of treason may have a "clearly deterrent effect" on investigative journalists.

The complaints come from the OSCE representative for press freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, who wrote a tartly worded letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier. She noted that her organization was established in 1997 by a German initiative recognizing the special meaning of freedom and expression of opinion and the role of a free and pluralistic media.

It was a German, Freimut Duve, who was the OSCE's first representative for press freedom, and the former German foreign and interior minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, later served as one of the organization's chairmen.

Ms. Mijatovic's assessment is a slap in the face of those in Germany who wanted to play down or sit out the whole affair.

Ms. Mijatovic's assessment is a slap in the face of those in Germany who wanted to play down or sit out the whole affair. German officials, she argued, need to ensure that freedom of information and media be respected, noting it is the media's duty to report on matters of public interest. The officials, she added, also should refrain from prosecution in the cases of suspected betrayal of secrets.

Ms. Mijatovic is just one critic from abroad, but nonetheless one with a high standing when it comes to media freedom. The foreign ministry has acknowledged the danger of defamation, aware how difficult it is to discuss  freedom of expression with countries like China and Turkey, when Germany has issues of its own. Not surprisingly, the ministry has tried to distance itself from the debate in Berlin.

But Mr. Steinmeier, Justice Minister Heiko Maas, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizère and Chancellor Angela Merkel must demonstrate the German government understands the dimensions of this particular case and will do it justice.

In a carefully worded statement, the foreign ministry said that media freedom needs to have an "absolute priority" in Germany for the country  “to remain credible internationally."

The protection of the constitution at home is mandatory.


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