The End of Journalism and Confidential Sources the Constitution be Damned!
November 2, 2007 1 Comment
Journalists across the globe have much to worry about if present legislation in Germany makes its way to the United States. Many European nations have began the practice of retaining all their countrymen’s communications since the 9/11 attack in New York.
The German Bundestag or parliament has now drafted legislation which would make their collection of all data including all voice communications received by the countries journalists which would effectively end the freedom of the press or allow for confidential sources to expect anonymity.
The future does not look bright for Germanys many news gathering organizations as confidential sources will no longer be afforded to secretly reveal any information. As all data that the German press receives will be available for the government to collect and quite possibly go on the attack against once confidential sources.
For a concerned German citizen to send an email, fax, text or voice communication they would be taking their life in their own hands. While they might attempt to alert the press of government malfeasance or inappropriate conduct the government will then know who they are and this will have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.
The bill if passed would take effect on January 1st, 2008 and it will remove any and all protection of a journalist’s sources in regards to Internet and Telecommunications information they might receive.
This legislation will destroy the freedom of the press in Germany and Christoph Gusy an authority on constitutional law points out that, “An enormous hole is being torn in the freedom of the press; Protection of sources will be largely left up to the judgment of law enforcement agencies. This de facto puts an end to confidentiality.”
The editor in chief of the German public television network ZDF was quoted as saying, “If the state holds confidential information for a period of preventive detention, this amounts to an attack on the very foundation of our work.”
The legislation requires all of Germany’s telecom providers to retain all communications data from their customers, all landline and mobile calls, faxes, text messages and e-mails. This would mean that all electronic communications in Germany would be recorded whether the parties concerned are under investigation or not.
There are many critics of the German governments attempt to destroy the freedom of the press and its attempts to violate the principle of communications secrecy and the right to privacy in the information age.
The general public in Germany is largely unaware that their Justice Ministry wants to remove two levels of the right to refuse to give evidence to the government. Only defense lawyers and members of the clergy would be allotted a top level which would not allow for them to be wiretapped and their private communications would still be private.
The press would not be afforded this protection as they would fall into the second class bearers of secrets and would be forced to reveal the sources which would effectively end the freedom of the press in Germany. The day of confidential sources in reporting would come to an end and the people and the press of Germany would suffer the penalty.
The right to a free press would be left up to the local magistrate who would work with and by all accounts for the prosecution.
A former Justice Minister described the proposed legislation as, “opening a massive gateway to access information that journalists possess, and then decide if it may be used or not”. While Christoph Gusy an authority on constitutional law points out that by that time it would already be to late, “There’s not an investigator in the world who would spontaneously forget new information that he has discovered”.
The legislation would have a chilling effect on the press as no one would pass sensitive information, especially from a government agency, if they assumed that the police and domestic security officials were recording all forms of communication.
For those brave journalists who once reported on government corruption or corporate misdeeds this law would in effect end an historic era. Where once the freedom of the press was regarded as an important facet of information and whose journalists were provided some protection from persecution by the government this would no longer be the case.
The journalists in Germany are fighting back and attempting to apply as much pressure as possible to avoid the introduction of this current legislation and some government officials are listening. There are some proposals that are gaining some strength with the government only being allowed access to their data if the reporter was a suspect of a serious criminal offense, of course this would be left up to the prosecutors discretion.
Still the politicians of Germany have little regard for the journalists of their country and they are not at all inclined to give them anymore protection than is minimally needed as they believe the power of the state overrides the freedom of the press.
The prosecutors of Germany want full access to various journalists’ confidential sources for use in whatever action they might feel prudent and they are applying as much pressure as possibly to make that a reality.
The ZDF television editor in chief is beside himself with the governments attempts to destroy the once confidential resources so desperately needed in reporting that he stated, “These days, with the free press already treading on thin ice, this is a devastating blow.”
The government official who introduced the legislation doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about as she believes she was following a European guideline. She is just following a European Union directive which makes the collection of all data a mandatory requirement.
She is quick to point out that the German requirements are less than the other European nations who will retain data for longer than 24 months this in comparison to Germanys six month retention policy.
Throughout history journalists have fought for their right to publish the truth and confidential sources have only strengthened this honorable tradition. Also during this period corrupt governments and corporations have wanted to squash these freedoms so that they may do as the please without any outside interference.
Government officials have often attacked the journalists by invoking the war on terror or any other term at their disposal to attack the media who might find out about government malfeasance or maybe government sponsored torture or the violation of citizen’s rights.
The days of Freedom of the Press may be coming to an end for our European counterparts and it is only logical to assume the American government and our current administration will only attempt to pass a similar law in the near or distant future.
What will our world be like when our journalists and reporters are no longer allowed to effectively report the news, will we just turn on state sponsored television to learn all we need to know?
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