As a mediator of information, the press – similar to broadcasting – has a significant influence on public opinion and political decisions. As the “fourth power” in our democratic society, the press is entitled to numerous privileges anchored in the constitution. However, it also has special duties, such as the duty of care in journalism.
The legal framework of press law, which is formally assigned to media law, is defined by the state press laws. The constitutional basis of press law is found in the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion in Article 5 of the Basic Law (GG). Moreover, sector-specific regulations supplement the press law (TMG as well as MStV). The legal regulatory framework is supplemented and specified by measures of co- and self-regulation, such as the Press Code of the German Press Council. Anyone who publishes online must essentially observe the same press law requirements as those who publish in the traditional way.
Legal questions in the area of press law and the right of expression usually take place in the area of conflict between freedom of opinion, freedom of the press and the public’s interest in information on the one hand and the personal rights of the individual (Article 2 (1) and Article 1 (1) of the German constitution) on the other.
Because of its important role for democracy, the press is granted particular rights, including, for example, the right to information under press law and the right to refuse to testify, which serves to protect information sources. Furthermore, the regulatory framework mentioned above gives rise to special obligations, such as the journalistic duty of care, according to which all news must be checked for authenticity and critically scrutinized before publication. This also includes the obligation to publish an imprint, the obligation to publish counterstatements or the obligation to label advertising.
Freedom of the press and freedom of opinion find their limits above all in the general personal rights of those affected by the reporting. Those affected can be natural persons as well as companies. The latter are increasingly the focus of negative headlines, which can damage the image of a company and thus have considerable economic consequences. This makes it necessary to take legal action as early as possible. Especially in the field of digital reporting, a fast and targeted response is essential.
The press right gives answers to numerous questions in connection with public expressions. The forms of possible law infringements can be complex. Untrue factual statements or abusive criticism can for example be subject to legal action: The party concerned can be entitled to various legal claims such as injunctive relief, counterstatement, smart money or compensation against the infringer.
But also, photo and video recordings from the public or private sector are omnipresent in times of social media - often without the consent or against the will of the people concerned. For example, images of people are used commercially by third parties for advertising purposes or otherwise. The so-called image reporting is also an essential part of the press law. From the general right of personality, the principle arises that everyone may decide for himself/herself whether his/her portrait is distributed. However, press law also provides for exceptions in which the person depicted must tolerate the distribution of his or her image even if no consent has been obtained. These exceptions concern e.g., events of contemporary history, assemblies or if a person appears in a picture merely as an accessory.
In principle, the respective author or editor is responsible for his or her contribution. However, the reporting company may also be held liable for its own content (including content that it makes its own) and for content distributed by third parties. This so-called distributor liability, however, always requires the violation of a monitoring obligation. The medium can be made liable on omission and under certain circumstances both under criminal law for defamation of character and under civil law for injury to reputation.
We advise you in all matters relating to the law of expression.
This includes advice on the legality of your individual media appearance or reporting. In media crisis situations we also develop customized concepts for crisis communication.
In and out of court, we will take action on your behalf against untrue or disparaging statements by third parties, enforce existing claims (e.g. for injunction, damages or counterstatement) or defend against claims made against you.
For many years, we have been representing companies from various industries, cities and municipalities as well as private individuals on questions concerning the right to express opinions and on questions concerning the right to one’s own image.