Drawn up by the German Press Council in collaboration with the Press associations and presented to Federal President Gustav W Heinemann on 12 December 1973 in Bonn, updated 20 June 2001.
The freedom of the Press guaranteed by the Basic Law (Constitution) of the Federal Republic of Germany embraces independence and freedom of information, expression and criticism. Publishers, editors and journalists must in their work remain aware of their responsibility towards the public and their duty to uphold the prestige of the Press. They must perform their journalistic duties to the best of their ability and belief and must not allow their work to be influenced by personal interests or extraneous motives.
The Press Code embodies the professional ethics of the Press. These include the duty within the framework of the Constitution and constitutional laws to maintain the standing of the Press and speak up for the freedom of the Press.
The regulations pertaining to editorial data protection apply to the Press in gathering, processing or using information about persons for journalistic-editorial purposes. From research to editing, publishing, documenting and storing these data, the Press must respect people’s privacy and right to self-determination on information about them.
The professional ethics grant everyone affected the right to complain about the Press. Complaints are justified if professional ethics are infringed.
Guidelines 1.1 to 1.3
Respect for the truth, observance of human rights and accurate informing of the public are the overriding principles of the Press.
Guideline 1.1 – Exclusive agreements
The informing of the public about events which, because of their importance, weight and significance are of general interest and importance for forming of public opinion and intent, must not be restricted or prevented by exclusive agreements with informants or shielding of them. Those who seek a monopoly on information exclude the rest of the Press from acquiring important news and thus impinge upon the freedom of information.
Guideline 1.2 – Election campaign rallies
It is a matter of journalistic fairness, serves the citizen’s right to freedom of information and upholds the equality of opportunity of democratic parties when Press reports on election campaign rallies include opinions which the media themselves do not share.
Guideline 1.3 – Press releases
Press releases issued by public authorities, political parties, associations, clubs or other lobby groups must be clearly defined as such if they are published without having been edited.
Guidelines 2.1 to 2.6
The publication of specific news and information in text and photographs must be carefully checked for accuracy in the light of existing circumstances. Its sense must not be distorted or falsified by editing, headlines or captions. Documents must be accurately reproduced. Unconfirmed reports, rumours or assumptions must be quoted as such. It must be clear, or made so, that symbolic photographs are such.
Guideline 2.1 – Opinion poll findings
The German Press Council recommends that in publishing findings by opinion poll institutes, the Press should give the number of respondents, the date of the poll, the identity of the person or organisation that commissioned it, and the questions asked. If the institute was not commissioned to carry out the poll, it should be pointed out that it was implemented at the initiative of the institute itself.
Guideline 2.2 – Symbolic photographs
If an illustration, especially a photograph, can be taken to be a documentary picture by the casual reader, although it is a symbolic photograph, this must be clarified. For this reason: – substitute or auxiliary illustrations (i.e. a similar subject at a different time, or a different subject at the same time, etc.), – symbolic illustrations (reconstructed scenes, artificially visualised events to accompany text, etc.), – photomontages or other changes must be clearly marked as such either in the caption or in the accompanying text.
Guideline 2.3 – Advance reports
The Press bears full journalistic responsibility for advance reports published in a compressed form which announce a forthcoming story. Anyone who further distributes advance reports by Press organs by stating the source must, basically, be able to rely on their validity. Abridgements or additions must not lead to a situation where the basic elements of the story are given a new slant or prompt incorrect conclusions which may harm the legitimate interests of third parties.
Guideline 2.4 – Interviews
An interview is absolutely journalistically correct if it has been authorised by the interviewee or his/her representative. If time is short, it is also correct to publish statements in unauthorised interview form if it is clear to both the interviewer and the interviewee that the statements are to be published either verbatim or as an edited version. Journalists must always identify themselves as such. If the text of an interview is reproduced in full or in part, the publication concerned must state its source. If the basic content of verbally expressed thoughts is paraphrased, it is nonetheless a matter of journalistic honour to state the source. In the case of advanced reports of an interview in abridged form, care must be taken to protect the interviewee against any distortions or impairments which may jeopardise his or her legitimate interests.
Guideline 2.5 – Embargoes
The imposition of embargoes during which the publication of certain information is held over is justifiable only if it is vital for objective and careful reporting. In principle, embargoes are a free agreement between informants and the media. Embargoes should be observed only if there is an objectively justifiable reason, such as in the case of speeches still to be held, advance copies of company reports or information on a future event (meetings, resolutions, honours ceremonies, etc.). Embargoes must not be used for publicity purposes.
Guideline 2.6 – Readers’ letters
(1) By means of readers’ letters, insofar as they are suitable in terms of form and content, readers should have the opportunity to express their views and thus participate in the opinion-forming process. It is in line with the journalistic duty of due diligence to observe the Press Code when publishing readers’ letters.
(2) Correspondence with publishers or editorial departments can be printed as readers’ letters if it is clear, due to their form and content, that this is in accordance with the sender’s wishes. Consent may be assumed if the letter refers to articles published by the newspaper or magazine concerned or to matters of general interest. The authors of such readers’ letters have no legal right to have them published.
(3) It is common practice that readers’ letters are published with the author’s name. Only in exceptional cases can, at the request of the author, another designation be used. The Press should not publish the authors’ addresses. If there is any doubt about the identity of the sender, a letter should not be printed. The publication of fake readers’ letters is not compatible with the duties of the Press.
(4) Changes or abridgements of letters from authors known by name are fundamentally impermissible without the author’s consent. Abridgements are possible if the Readers’ Letters section contains a permanent notice that the editor reserves the right to shorten such letters without changing the meaning of them. Should the sender expressly forbid changes or abridgements, the editorial department must either comply with that wish, even if it has reserved the right to abridgement, or decline to publish the letter.
(5) All readers’ letters sent to the editor are subject to editorial secrecy. They must never be passed on to third parties.
Guidelines 3.1 to 3.3
Published news or assertions, particularly those related to persons, which turn out to be incorrect must be rectified promptly in an appropriate manner by the publication concerned.
Guideline 3.1 – Corrections
The reader must be able to recognise that the previous article was wholly or partly incorrect. For this reason a correction publishing the true facts must also refer to the incorrect article. The true facts are to be published even if the error has already been publicly admitted in another way.
Guideline 3.2 – Documentation
If journalistic-editorial research, processing or use of person-related data results in the Press having to publish corrections, retractions, refutations by the persons concerned or to a reprimand by the German Press Council, the publication involved must store them along with the original data and document them for the same period as the original data.
Guideline 3.3 – Information
If a Press report has a negative effect on someone’s personal rights, the publication responsible must, at his or her request, give them information on the data upon which the report was based and on the data on his or her person which the publication has stored. The information may be declined if: – the data enables derivation of the names of persons who are collaborating, or have collaborated, in the research, processing or publishing of articles as part of their journalistic work; – the data enables derivation of the names of contributors, guarantors or informants of articles, documents and reports for the editorial section; – imparting the data obtained by research or other means would negatively affect the publication¥s journalistic mission by revealing the information it possesses; or – it otherwise proves to necessary in order to reconcile the right to privacy with the regulations obtaining on freedom of expression.
Guidelines 4.1 to 4.3
Dishonest methods must not be used to acquire person-related news, information or photographs
Guideline 4.1 – Principles of research
Research is an indispensable instrument of the journalistic duty of due diligence. Journalists must, as a fundamental principle, identify themselves as such. Untrue statements by a journalist about his/her identity and their publication when doing research work are fundamentally irreconcilable with the standing and function of the Press. Undercover research may be justifiable in individual cases if in this way information of particular public interest is gained which cannot be procured by other means. In the event of accidents and natural disasters, the Press must bear in mind that emergency services for the victims and those in danger have priority over the public right to information.
Guideline 4.2 – Research among people requiring protection
When conducting research among people requiring protection, particular restraint is called for. This applies especially to people who are not in full possession of their mental or physical powers or who have been exposed to an extremely emotional situation, as well as to children and juveniles. The limited willpower or the special situation of such people must not be exploited deliberately to gain information.
Guideline 4.3 – Blocking or Deletion of personal data
Personal data gathered in violation of the Press Code are to be blocked or deleted by the publication involved.
Agreed confidentiality must be observed as a fundamental principle.
Guideline 5.1 – Confidentiality
Should an informant stipulate, as a condition for the use of his/her report, that he/she remain unrecognisable or unendangered as the source, this is to be respected. Confidentiality can be non-binding only if the information concerns a crime and there is a duty to inform the police. Confidentiality may also be lifted if, in carefully weighing interests, important reasons of state predominate, particularly if the constitutional order is affected or jeopardised. Actions and plans described as secret may be reported if after careful consideration it is determined that the public’s need to know outweighs the reasons put forward to justify secrecy.
Guidelines 6.1 to 6.2
All those employed by the Press shall preserve the prestige and credibility of the media, observe professional secrecy, use the right to refuse to give evidence, and not disclose the identity of informants without their express consent.
Guideline 6.1 – Separation of functions
Should a journalist or publisher exercise another function in addition to his or her journalistic activity, for example in a government, a public authority or a business enterprise, all those involved must take care strictly to separate these functions. The same applies in reverse. Conflicts of interests harm the standing of the Press.
Guideline 6.2 – Secret service activities
Secret service activities by journalists and publishers are irreconcilable with the duties stemming from professional secrecy and the prestige of the Press.
Guidelines 7.1 to 7.3
The responsibility of the Press towards the public requires that editorial publications are not influenced by the private or business interests of third parties or by the personal commercial interests of journalists. Publishers and editors must reject any attempts of this nature and make a clear distinction between editorial texts and commercial content.
Guideline 7.1 – Distinction between editorial text and advertisements
Regulations under advertising law apply to paid content. Accordingly, publications must be so designed that the reader can recognise advertising as such.
Guideline 7.2 – Surreptitious advertising
Editorial stories that refer to companies, their products, services or events must not overstep the boundary to surreptitious advertising. This risk is especially great if a story goes beyond justified public interest or the reader’s interest in information. The credibility of the Press as a source of information calls for particular care in dealing with PR material and in producing editorial supplements. This also applies to unedited advertising texts, photographs and illustrations.
Guideline 7.3 – Special publications
Special publications are subject to the same editorial responsibility as all other editorial content.
Guidelines 8.1 to 8.8
The Press shall respect people’s private lives. If, however, the private behaviour of a person touches upon public interests, then it may in isolated cases be discussed in the Press. Care must be taken to ensure that the personal rights of non-involved persons are not violated. The Press shall respect people’s right to self-determination on information about them and observe editorial data protection.
Guideline 8.1 – Publication of names and photographs
(1) The publication of names and photographs of victims and accused persons in reports on accidents, crimes, investigations and court cases (see also Section 13 of the Press Code) is in general not justified. The public’s right to information must always be weighed against the personal rights of those involved. The need for sensation cannot justify the public’s right to be informed.
(2) Victims of accidents or crimes have a right to special protection of their names. It is not as a rule necessary to identify the victim in order for readers better to understand the accident or crime. Exceptions can be justified if the person concerned is famous or if there are special accompanying circumstances.
(3) In the case of dependants and other people who are indirectly affected by an accident or who have nothing to do with a crime, the publication of names and photographs is fundamentally impermissible.
(4) The publication of the full names and/or photographs of suspects accused of a capital crime is, however, justified if it is in the interest of solving the crime and an arrest warrant has been applied for, or if the crime was committed in public view. If there are reasons to believe that a suspect is innocent, no name or photograph should be published.
(5) In the case of crimes committed by juveniles, if no serious crimes are involved names and identifying photographs should not be published out of consideration for their future.
(6) In the case of officials and elected representatives, the publication of names and photographs can be permissible if there is a connection between a public office or mandate and a crime. The same applies to famous people if the crime of which they are accused is contrary to their public image.
(7) The names and photographs of missing persons may be published, but only in agreement with the responsible authorities.
Guideline 8.2 – Protection of location
People¥s private addresses and other locations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, cure resorts, prisons and rehabilitation centres enjoy special protection.
Guideline 8.3 – Re-socialisation
In the interests of re-socialisation, publication of the names and photographs of accused persons is as a rule to be omitted when reporting a criminal trial.
Guideline 8.4 – Illnesses
Physical and mental illness or injuries come fundamentally within the private sphere of the persons affected. Out of consideration for them and their dependants, the Press should not publish names and photographs in such cases and should avoid using disparaging terms to describe their illness or hospital/clinic, even if they are terms in popular usage. Historical or famous persons are protected by law against discriminatory revelations even after their death.
Guideline 8.5 – Suicide
Reporting on suicides calls for restraint. This applies in particular to the publication of names and detailed descriptions of the circumstances. Exceptions are justifiable only if the case is one of contemporary history and public interest.
Guideline 8.6 – Opposition and escapes
In reports on countries where opposition to the government can mean danger to life and limb, the Press must always consider whether, by publishing names or photographs, those involved may be identified and persecuted in their homeland. The same applies to reports on refugees. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the publication of details about such persons and about the preparation and realisation of escapes and escape routes may result in relatives and friends who are still in the escapees’ homelands being endangered, or in still-existing escape routes being closed.
Guideline 8.7 – Anniversary dates
The publication of anniversary dates of persons who are otherwise not in the public eye requires that the editorial department has confirmed in advance whether those involved consent to publication or would prefer protection from public attention.
Guideline 8.8 – Data transfer
All person-related data gathered, processed and used for journalistic-editorial purposes are subject to editorial secrecy. Transfer of such data between editorial departments is permissible. It is not to be done until conclusion of a formal complaint procedure under data protection law. A data transfer is to be annotated with the remark that the data is to be edited or used only for journalistic-editorial purposes.
It is contrary to journalistic decorum to publish unfounded claims and accusations, particularly those that harm personal honour.
Publications in word and image which could seriously offend the moral or religious feelings of a group of persons, in form or content, are irreconcilable with the responsibility of the Press.
Guidelines 11.1 to 11.6
The Press will refrain from inappropriately sensational portrayal of violence and brutality. The protection of young persons is to be considered in reporting.
Guideline 11.1 – Inappropriate portrayal
A report is inappropriately sensational if the person it covers is reduced to an object, to a mere thing. This is particularly so if reports about a dying or physically or mentally suffering person goes beyond public interest and the readers’ requirement for information.
Guideline 11.2 – Reporting acts of violence
In reporting actual and threatened acts of violence, the Press should weigh carefully the public’s interest in information against the interests of the victims and other people involved. It should report on such incidents in an independent and authentic way, but not allow itself to be made the tool of criminals. Nor should it undertake independent attempts to mediate between criminals and the police. There must be no interviews with perpetrators during acts of violence.
Guideline 11.3 – Accidents and disasters
The limit of acceptability in reports on accidents and disasters is respect for the suffering of the victims and the feelings of their dependants. Victims of misfortune must not be made to suffer a second time by their portrayal in the media.
Guideline 11.4 – Coordination with the authorities/news ‘blackouts’
In principle, the Press does not accept news ‘blackouts’. Coordination between the media and the police shall occur only if the action of journalists can protect or save the life and health of victims and other involved persons. The Press shall comply with police requests for a partial or total news embargo for a certain period of time in the interest of solving crime, if the request is justified convincingly.
Guideline 11.5 – Criminals’ memoirs
The publication of so-called criminals’ memoirs infringes journalistic principles if crimes are justified or qualified with hindsight, the victims are inappropriately affected, and a detailed description of the crime merely satisfies the demand for sensation.
Guideline 11.6 – Drugs
Press stories must not play down drug abuse.
No-one may be discriminated against due to their membership of a racial, ethnic, religious, social or national group.
Guideline 12.1 – Reports on crimes
When reporting crimes, it is not permissible to refer to the suspect’s religious, ethnic or other minority membership unless this information can be justified as being relevant to the readers’ understanding of the incident. In particular, it must be borne in mind that such references could stir up prejudices against groups in need of protection.
Guidelines 13.1 to 13.2
Reports on investigations, criminal court proceedings and other formal procedures must be free from prejudice. For this reason, before and during legal proceedings all comment, both in reports and headlines, must avoid being one-sided or prejudicial. An accused person must not be described as guilty before final judgment has been passed. Court decisions should not be reported before they are announced unless there are serious reasons to justify such action.
Guideline 13.1 – Prejudice – subsequent reporting
Reports on investigations and court cases serve to inform the public in a careful way about crimes, their prosecution and court judgment. Suspects must be presumed innocent until they are proven guilty by a court, even if they have confessed. Even in cases where guilt is obvious to the public, an accused person cannot be portrayed as guilty within the meaning of a court judgment until a verdict has been handed down. Prejudicial portrayals and allegations violate the constitutional protection of human dignity, which also applies without qualification to criminals. In a state based on the rule of law, the aim of court reporting must not be to punish convicted criminals socially as well by using the media as a “pillory”. Therefore reports should make a clear distinction between suspicion and proven guilt. If the Press has reported on the unconfirmed conviction of a person it has named or who is identifiable to a large circle of readers, it should also report an ensuing acquittal or a marked lessening of charges if the legitimate interests of the person affected do not dictate to the contrary. This recommendation also applies to the dropping of an investigation. Criticism and comment on a case must be easily distinguishable from reporting on court proceedings.
Guideline 13.2 – Crimes committed by young persons
When reporting on investigations and criminal court proceedings against young persons and on their appearance in court, the Press must exercise especial restraint out of consideration for their future. This also applies to young victims of crimes.
Reports on medical subjects should not be of an inappropriately sensationalist nature which could raise unfounded fears or hopes among readers. Research findings that are still at an early stage should not be portrayed as conclusive or almost conclusive.
Guideline 14.1 – Medical or pharmaceutical research
Reports of alleged successes or failures of medical or pharmaceutical research in the fight against serious illnesses call for circumspection and a sense of responsibility. Thus, neither text nor presentation should include anything that might raise unfounded hopes of a cure in the foreseeable future among ill readers and their dependants if this does not conform with the actual state of medical research. Conversely, critical or even one-sided reports on hotly-debated opinions should not make seriously-ill persons feel unsure and thus raise doubts about the possible success of therapeutic measures.
The acceptance or granting of privileges of any kind which could possibly influence the freedom or decision on the part of publishers and editors are irreconcilable with the prestige, independence and mission of the Press. Anyone who accepts bribes for the dissemination or suppression of news acts in a dishonourable and unprofessional manner.
Guideline 15.1 – Invitations and gifts
The freedom of decision and independent judgment of publishing companies and their editorial staff is endangered if they accept invitations and gifts which exceed the usual level of social contacts and that necessary in their professional work. Even the appearance that the freedom of decision of a publishing house and its editorial staff can be impaired by accepting invitations and gifts is to be avoided. Gifts are economic and non-material favours of any kind. The acceptance of advertising articles for everyday use or other low-value objects on traditional occasions is not a cause for concern. Research and reporting must not be influenced, hindered or prevented by the giving or accepting of gifts, discounts or invitations. Publishing houses and journalists should insist that information be given regardless of the acceptance of a gift or an invitation.
It is considered fair reporting when a public reprimand issued by the German Press Council is published, especially by the publications concerned.
Guideline 16.1 – Publication of reprimands
The following applies to the publication concerned: The reader must be informed of the false nature of the reprimanded article and of the journalistic principle it violated.