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IPI welcomes Constitutional Court decision limiting application of right of reply against print media

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI press release:

IPI Welcomes German Constitutional Court Decision Limiting Right of Reply Use

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, welcomes a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany limiting the application of the Recht auf Gegendarstellung (Right of Reply) against print media.

"This is a sensible decision on a media regulation that if wrongly applied can impinge on editorial independence and can also be open to abuse," said David Dadge, IPI Director. "While this decision is not binding on other countries, I would hope that some of Germany's EU partners, such as Slovenia and Slovakia, who have passed or may pass controversial amendments to their own Right of Reply legislation, also heed this decision."

According to information before IPI, the Bundesverfassungsgerichtshof (Federal Constitutional Court) on 22 January issued a decision deeming unconstitutional a prior court decision obligating the weekly current affairs magazine Der Spiegel to publish a reply to a 2004 article, concluding that the order violated the press freedom guaranteed by Article 5 of the German Constitution. The original article published by Der Spiegel discussed a decision ordering repayment of 35.7 million euros by a woman who had previously received that sum as compensation for shares allegedly lost during the Second World War. The woman demanded the right of reply to the article, and a Hamburg court ultimately ordered the magazine to comply with that request.

On appeal, Der Spiegel emphasized that the impressions the woman sought to counter in her reply were not necessarily conveyed by a reading of the original article, and maintained that requiring the magazine to permit a reply to all reasonably possible interpretations of its articles unduly interfered with its constitutional rights. The Federal Constitutional Court agreed. Its analysis acknowledged that the Right of Reply infringes on the press's freedom to decide what to print, and that it can, where interpreted too broadly, impose undue restraint on publications wary of circulating stories that may trigger numerous requests to reply. The Federal Constitutional Court therefore concluded that the Right of Reply requires only that the media publish replies to disputed statements that are presented as mandating irrefutable conclusions.

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