Peter Freitag / Vice President of the German Journalists’ Association
Peter Freitag, vice-president of the International Union of German Journalists (DJU), is really worried about things happened to journalists while doing their work in different countries of the world “We are very worried about our colleagues in Belarus. However, journalists are also under pressure in other parts of the world.” said Freitag.
Freedom of the press remains an important issue. There is still pressure on journalists in Europe as well. How do you evaluate the situation in Belarus?
We are very concerned about our colleagues in Belarus. According to the Belarusian journalists’ union BAJ, several hundred media workers have been arrested since the beginning of the mass protests and many of them have also been victims of state violence. The regime does not even shy away from torture. Belarus is the second major “journalists’ prison” in Europe after Turkey. It is particularly depressing that we can only provide insufficient help to those affected, because the Lukashenko regime reacts to any form of direct support with further reprisals.
Things are not looking good in Hungary either. There, the traditional media of print, radio and television are predominantly in government hands. The country is a member of the EU. What do you expect from Brussels?
The EU is not just an economic area, but a community of values. Our expectation is therefore that the EU will use all the means at its disposal to force the Orban government to comply with the principles of the rule of law. Of course, this also includes freedom of the press. In the EU, we fi nally need effective tools against the erosion of media freedom – and not just in Hungary.
There are also increasing attacks on journalists in Germany. Again and again there are attacks on colleagues at demonstrations of the so-called “Querdenker”. How do you judge these attacks and what do you wish from the state?
These attacks are unacceptable. Just a few weeks ago, our Berlin dju managing director Jörg Reichel was attacked on the fringes of a “Querdenker” demonstration and beaten to hospital. There are now broadcasters who send their teams to demonstrations of so-called lateral thinkers, right-wing populists and fascists only with personal protection. This is very commendable, but it cannot be a solution. Journalists must be protected in their work by those responsible for itby the police and, if necessary, by the courts. We hope that police forces and their superiors will also recognize freedom of the press as an indispensable asset and help to enforce this fundamental right. Unfortunately, we experience again and again that police offi cers perceive media representatives at demonstrations as a disruptive factor and not as people who do fundamental work for our society. Our impression is that the police throughout Germany have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to freedom of the press. This important topic must be given more attention in police training. As Europe’s largest media union, we are happy to serve as a point of contact.
Four journalists, supported by the German Journalists’ Union (dju) in ver.di, have fi led a lawsuit against the State of Bavaria with the Munich Administrative Court. They had been stopped and checked by police offi cers on the grounds of the International Motor Show (IAA), and were taken into custody despite evidence that they had already been checked at the entrance and that they were properly accredited and had shown their press cards. An isolated case? How do you assess this?
Unfortunately, the incidents surrounding the IAA are not an isolated case. More and more often, we as dju in ver.di have to support journalists in forcing German authorities through the courts to adhere to the principles of the rule of law and to respect the fundamental right of freedom of the press. We experienced that colleagues were prevented from reporting at the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017 as well as at the Hambacher Forst protests in North Rhine-Westphalia. As recently as June of this year, there were even violent attacks by police on journalists during a demonstration against the planned NRW Assembly Act in Düsseldorf. That is unacceptable.
At present, the problem child seems to be Afghanistan. Many colleagues are still in the country and cannot make it out. The Taliban have arrested many of them. What do you expect from the German government and the international community?
The rescue of Afghan media and cultural workers is currently an absolute priority, but the German government is not pushing it forward with the urgency it deserves. Our colleagues are in acute danger to their health and lives, and the security situation is steadily deteriorating. Germany and the other democratic states of the international community must do everything in their power to get the endangered people and their families out of Afghanistan and
to offer them safe prospects of admission.
Turkey also remains a dangerous country for journalists. 300 colleagues fl ed abroad after the attempted coup, about 100 media workers are still in prison, and the German government seems to be standing idly by. What do you expect from a future federal government?
Our expectations of the future federal government are the same as those of the current one: it must use its infl uence on its NATO partner Turkey to ensure that our colleagues are released. There must be no deals or lazy compromises with President Erdogan. Turkey is an arbitrary regime that criminalizes critical journalism and systematically suppresses human rights such as freedom of the press. If the German government is serious about its proclaimed values, there must be no concessions to such a state.