Spying on the media by the intelligence services and police to discover journalistic sources was a hot topic in 2006 and several journalists were prosecuted for “complicity in disclosing state secrets.” The new freedom of information law came into effect but implementation was not satisfactory.
Freelance journalist Bruno Schirra and Johannes von Dohnanyi, foreign editor of the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick, were charged on 15 March 2006 with “complicity in disclosing state secrets” along with Wolfram Weimer, editor of the political magazine Cicero. The Potsdam prosecutor said Schirra included in an April 2005 Cicero article part of a confidential police report on Al-Qaeda that von Dohnanyi had passed on to him. In September that year, police violated the right to secrecy of journalistic sources (article 53 of the code of criminal procedure) by searching the magazine’s offices and Schirra’s house.
Weimer agreed to pay a fine of €1,000 in exchange for the dropping of charges, but refused to admit his guilt and said he had wanted to speed up the legal process and get a decision from the Constitutional Court, which on 22 November 2006 began hearing his appeal against the police search as a violation of press freedom. A verdict is expected in 2007.
The Potsdam regional court overruled a decision against Schirra and von Dohnanyi in July 2006. It argued that the state secret had already been disclosed when the information was passed to Schirra. It also said the content of the confidential report was known to a French journalist months before the article appeared in Cicero.
Two opposition parties in the German parliament, the FDP and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, are pushing for a new law to protect journalists from prosecution for “complicity in disclosing state secrets.”
The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed on 12 May that a former senior judge had said in a confidential report to a parliamentary commission that the German intelligence service BND had spied on journalists between 1990 and late 2005 to discover which of its officials were leaking material to the media. Major magazines Stern and Der Spiegel then found out they had been spied on. The government was forced to react on 15 May by banning the BND from spying on journalists. The report, which was eventually published on 26 May, said that as well as tapping journalists’ phones, the BND had paid some journalists to spy on their colleagues.
Another phone-tapping case was revealed in December by Süddeutsche Zeitung, which said conversations between journalists of Stern and of the publicly-run TV station ZDF with the lawyer of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in 2003 and held in Afghanistan until May 2004 had been spied on. The public prosecutor had ordered the phone-tapping in January 2006 to obtain information about the kidnappers of Masri, whose lawyer, Manfred Gnijdic, appealed against the phone-tapping to the constitutional court.
Der Tagesspiegel cartoonist Klaus Stuttmann received death threats after one of his cartoons appeared in the paper on 17 February. With the caption “Why the army must be present,” it showed four Iranian football players with explosives strapped to them standing next to armed German soldiers. It was an ironic comment on the debate about use of the army during the soccer World Cup.
A day after the 17 September elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, two journalists were attacked by supporters of the extreme right-wing NPD party while taking pictures of and filming party members. A journalist and photographer were attacked and beaten while covering a neo-nazi-meeting on 4 November
A new freedom of information law came into effect in January 2006. The law officially guarantees access to such data but includes many exceptions for reasons of supposed public and national security and requires that disclosure of information about a company must be approved by the company itself. Those seeking information must also pay for it.