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Freedom of the press: a foundation of democracy 

Foreign Minister Maas giving a press statement in New York

Foreign Minister Maas giving a press statement in New York, © Thomas Imo/photothek.net

03.05.2019 - Article

On World Press Freedom Day, Heiko Maas emphasised that a free, independent and diverse press was a prerequisite for any functioning democracy.

Around the world, journalists are being imprisoned, intimidated and defamed to an icreasing extent in order to prevent them from going about their work or to exert influence on them. Moreover, misinformation campaigns are shaking confidence in the media and heightening the risks to which journalists are exposed.

Protecting the freedom of the press around the world is a key priority of the Federal Government. After all, attacks on journalists are not only attacks on individual people, but also on the freedom of opinion and information of democratic societies.

Article 5 of the Basic Law on the freedom of the press reads as follows:

“Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures […]. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting […] shall be guaranteed.” This is how the Basic Law has enshrined the freedom of the press for almost 70 years. Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights protect freedom of opinion and information at the international level and create the legal preconditions for open and democratic debate. 

Jamal Khashoggi and Jan Kuciak

This is not the status quo everywhere, however. In February 2018, the Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at home. In October of the same year, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia shocked the world. These cases are just two among more than 60 murders of journalists in the past year. 

The situation of the freedom of the press around the world
The situation of the freedom of the press around the world© Reporter ohne Grenzen

A prerequisite for any functioning democracy

On the fringes of his trip to Mexico – which is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists – Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that this was a dangerous development: 

A free, independent and diverse press is a prerequisite for any functioning democracy. It investigates, looks behind the scenes, informs and educates the general public, demands accountability, and stimulates debate. In short, it creates a space for communication and participation – which is essential in every democratic society. Our Basic Law was adopted 70 years ago, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a little over 70 years ago. However, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Working together closely to protect the freedom of the press

The situation of journalists is regularly discussed in bilateral talks with other governments and also in international forums. In the UN Human Rights Council, for instance, the Federal Government is seeking to adopt resolutions to promote the protection of journalists and is supporting the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Germany is working together closely with its partners in the framework of regional groups of friends. 

Thanks and a promise

“We express our thanks to all dedicated journalists on this World Press Freedom Day. We promise that we will continue to stand up for them and campaign for world press freedom,” said Foreign Minister Maas.

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