The right of journalists not to reveal their sources and the confidentiality of data remains under threat. The federal authorities and some state governments have sought to monitor journalists’ phone and e-mail messages, citing a need to fight crime.
Examining magistrates were given permission in March 2003 to allow police to track phone calls sent and received by journalists suspected of contacting criminals involved in crimes deemed to be serious. The judge must decide in each case if press freedom or the fight against crime is to have precedence. The lack of a clear definition of "serious" was a threat to investigative journalists. The Bavarian parliament debated a bill to allow police to monitor the e-mail and phone calls of some professional people, including journalists, if they are thought to be in contact with criminal suspects. It was dropped in the face of opposition from journalists, lawyers and churches. Similar proposals have already been made by the city of Hamburg and the Saarland state government and also dropped.
Harassment and obstruction
The country’s constitutional court ruled on 12 March 2003 that in "serious" criminal cases, examining magistrates could authorise police to track phone calls sent and received by journalists. It said such monitoring did not violate articles 10 and 19 of the national constitution guaranteeing data confidentiality if a journalist was suspected of being in contact with a criminal by this means.
The court ruled on complaints about police phone-tapping in 1995 from two journalists, Udo Frank and Beate Thorn Bergmann, of the second-biggest state-funded public TV station, ZDF, who were investigating property magnate Jürgen Schneider. The tapping, authorised by a Frankfurt court, had led to his arrest. However, one of the journalists decided on his own to give police a tape of a phone call with Schneider which was used by detectives.
The Frankfurt prosecutor’s office in 1997 ordered the phone of Edith Kohn, a reporters with the weekly magazine Stern, to be tapped to try to find Hans-Joachim Klein, a former member of the Red Army Faction terrorist group who had taken refuge in France and who Kohn had contacted.