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Germany plans new press freedom laws

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has announced plans to enact a law that she says would provide greater protection for journalists using leaked government information.

A newspaper press

Plans for the law were set out in the cabinet's coalition contract

In an interview published on Sunday, April 4, by weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Justice Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the cabinet would draft a "law to strengthen press freedom" by giving greater protection to journalists who use confidential state informants.


Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said journalists need better legal protection

"Members of the media must be able to do their jobs - to hold the government accountable and to uncover wrongdoing - freely and without interference," she said.

The law would revise the penal code used to prosecute betrayal of state secrets, which allows for up to five years in prison.

Although the law mainly applies to state officials, state prosecutors have used it to search media outlets that publish leaked information in order to find the informants. The revision would narrow the legal definition of aiding betrayal of state secrets, according to the report. It would also tighten regulations of raids and confiscation of materials belonging to journalists.

Angela Merkel's cabinet is set to start negotiating the law in May. The conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) made plans for the law in their coalition contract. Opposition within the government would therefore be unlikely, the report said.

Cicero affair

German constitutional court

Germany's constitutional court ruled the raid on Cicero illegal

Calls for improving journalistic protection have been on the rise since the 2005 "Cicero affair," which began when Potsdam-based magazine Cicero published an article using information from a leaked classified report by the Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA).

Police raided the offices of the magazine, as well as the private residences of the editor-in-chief and author of the article, to discover who leaked the report.

A 2007 ruling by Germany's constitutional court found the raid to be unconstitutional and a violation of press freedom because the journalists themselves were not suspected of breaking the law.

Paris-based journalists' organization Reporters Without Borders ranked Germany 18th in the world in its 2009 Press Freedom Index, behind former Soviet states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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