In her current column for the media magazine “Statement” (September/October 2018 issue), lawyer Melanie Gassler-Tischlinger dealt with the tension between freedom of opinion and of the press and the interest of companies in keeping certain detrimental facts secret.
In Germany, an animal rights activist got into two organic chicken coops. He filmed dead chickens and chickens that were in very bad condition. He gave the film material to a German TV station that was not involved in his actions. The TV station reported on the effects of the sale of organic products in supermarkets and broadcast the films publicly.
Eleven organic farms sued the TV station. The court ruled that the recordings of the chickens must not be shown. The TV station’s appeal against the verdict was unsuccessful.
However, the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof ) granted the TV station’s appeal and ultimately dismissed the complaint of the organic farms against the TV station. The Court decided that the recordings were in fact suitable to impair the reputation and standing of the organic farms in public. According to the Court, the organic farms would certainly have an interest in secrecy, which would be affected by the recordings. But the TV station was pursuing the information interest of the public. The right to freedom of opinion and of the press outweighs the interests of the companies. The recordings were true. The condition of the chickens was indeed bad. “It corresponds to the task of the press as watchdog of the public to concern itself with these aspects and to inform the public. The function of the press is not limited to uncovering criminal offences or breaches of law”, the Court ruled.
Independent media and investigative journalism are the cornerstones of a constitutional state and therefore of every EU member state. Without freedom of the press, topics that affect society cannot be researched professionally and wrongdoings cannot be exposed. The state has the task of creating the legal framework to guarantee press freedom.