Germany | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Germany’s media remained free and vibrant in 2007, despite challenges to the right to confidentiality of sources. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, although there are exceptions for hate speech, Holocaust denial, and Nazi propaganda. Early in 2007, two men were sentenced to prison for denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred. Ernst Zundel was sentenced to five years for running a website from Canada that questioned the Holocaust and presented anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi views. In an unrelated case, Germar Rudolf was sentenced to 30 months in jail for publishing a book that questioned the use of Zyklon B gas in the Nazi death camps. Freedom of information legislation finally went into force in January 2006. While the law establishes that information held by public authorities is by definition open, it contains numerous exemptions and requires the payment of high fees in advance of every request. According to statistics published by the country’s Freedom of Information Commissioner, over 2,200 requests were received in 2006. Of those, access to the desired information was denied in 410 cases, but several successful court cases have required the authorities in question to make those documents available. In a positive move in February 2007, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that a 2005 raid on the office of Cicero magazinehad been illegal. Several months after Cicero published extracts from a confidential report about al-Qaeda, police had raided the political magazine’s office and the home of the journalist who wrote the article. Also in 2007, the German government approved a bill in November requiring telecommunications firms to store data for up to six months, including e-mails, text messages, and cellular telephone conversations, and make the information available to police upon request. The new law, which will go into effect January 1, 2008, permits the wiretapping of lawyers and doctors as well as journalists under certain circumstances, while providing a level of protection to religious clerics, members of parliament, and state prosecutors.

In August 2007, the German government launched a criminal investigation against 17 journalists from a number of influential publications, including Der Spiegel, Die Welt, and Suddeutsche Zeitung. The journalists were accused of breaking Article 353B of the criminal code—the same article that had initially enabled police to raid Cicero—which prohibits the “divulging” of state secrets. The journalists had allegedly committed the crime when they published excerpts from secret government documents detailing covert CIA extraordinary rendition flights and allegations of misconduct by German military personnel during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, by the end of the year, the cases had all been dropped.

The private media are diverse and independent. Each of the 16 state governments is in charge of its own public radio and television broadcasting system, and there are also a number of private stations throughout the country. The print media are dominated by numerous regional papers, and only a handful of national papers are published. A small number of centralized editorial offices control most content, and only a few commercial groups, which are some of the largest in the world, dominate the media market. The internet is open and largely unrestricted, except for a law banning access to child pornography and Nazi propaganda. As a result, many search engines in Germany have subscribed to the Voluntary Self-Control for Multimedia Service Providers association, filtering websites based on a list created by Germany’s Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. The internet was accessed by over 64 percent of the population in 2007.