Freedom of the press in germany: seehofer wants to file charges against columnist

Minister of the Interior announces charges over a taz text. It is unclear whether this will happen. Chancellor intervenes. taz editor-in-chief puts herself in front of the author.

Horst Seehofer after last week’s conference of interior ministers Photo: dpa

Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) wants to file criminal charges over a controversial column about the police in the newspaper taz. "Tomorrow, as federal interior minister, I will file criminal charges against the columnist because of the unspeakable article in the taz about the police," the CSU politician told the Bild newspaper on Sunday evening. "Disinhibition of words inevitably leads to disinhibition of deeds and to excesses of violence, just as we have now seen in Stuttgart. We must not continue to tolerate that."

With this, Seehofer joins the police unions. The latter had already announced last week that charges would be filed against the taz and the author.in because of the column under the title "All cops are professionally unfit.

Whether Seehofer will actually file charges is still open. Differently than by the Minister by picture announced, is not yet decided over it, said a speaker of its Ministry on Monday in Berlin. Apparently, the Chancellor has also intervened. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) was in discussion with Seehofer about it.

The editor-in-chief of the taz, Barbara Junge, had commented on Seehofer’s announcement on Monday morning: "As Federal Minister of the Interior, Seehofer is responsible qua office for the protection of the constitution and thus for the freedom of the press guaranteed therein. Seehofer is also responsible for the police. In this case, the Federal Minister of the Interior puts the concerns of the police above the freedom of the press. His decision could not have been clearer. His denunciation of our author.in is a shameful attack on press freedom."

Last Monday, the text entitled "All cops are professionally unfit" had appeared. It was about where cops could work if the police were abolished but capitalism was not. In it, the option of the landfill was also taken up. Much criticism came from within the profession and from politicians afterwards. Police unions announced that they would take action against it with criminal charges. The German Press Council – the voluntary self-regulation of the press – had already received around 50 complaints by Tuesday.

Last week, the CSU had already published a photo of the author.in on Twitter with the addition: "The ugly grimace of the hateful left". That had the effect of a virtual pillory. Meanwhile, the CSU has deleted the tweet and apologized for the form. "Our author.in was thus made the target of hate and agitation. With his announced ad, Seehofer continues this course and exposes Hengameh Yaghoobifarah to threats again," says Barbara Junge.

The taz editor-in-chief had already responded to criticism of the column. Junge wrote to readers about the article, "A column, however satirical it may have been intended, that can be understood as if police officers are nothing but trash, has missed the mark. I’m sorry about that."

In addition, Junge wrote that the wrangling in the editorial team over the text and what should, may and must be said also revealed "a deeper conflict in the taz." "We are arguing about how strongly the subjective view, how strongly experience of discrimination should or may shape journalism." Junge also announced that there would be debate articles with different perspectives in the newspaper, the first of which have now appeared.

Criticism from the Greens

There has already been criticism of Seehofer from the political arena as well. The federal manager of the Green Party, Michael Kellner, wrote on Twitter, "This is an attack on press freedom, regardless of whether you think the opinion piece is good or bad." Referring to Hungary’s prime minister and the head of Poland’s ruling party, each of whom has been accused of illiberalism, he added: "An interior minister denouncing a journalist sounds like Orban or Kaczynski."

Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Green Party’s Bundestag, expressed understanding for criticism of the taz column. But Seehofer "crossed a line," Notz wrote in the short message service. His parliamentary group colleague Renate Kunast called Seehofer’s actions there "outrageous" and asked, "That’s supposed to be a message!? Against freedom of the press!? Seehofer at the end."

Television satirist Jan Bohmermann wrote: "We are not in Turkey, Russia or 1962 here! With this dangerous showmanship, Horst Seehofer not only damages trust in the state. What authority does a minister still have who has to take such an axe to the debate from his office?"