Status: 05.02.2022 3:46 p.m
The ban on RT DE television programming raises a fundamental question: how to deal with foreign propaganda? Media law contains opportunities, but freedom of the media is a paramount asset.
The Russian embassy in Berlin calls it a “first phase of countermeasures.” RT DE’s website speaks of “retaliatory measures”: orders to close Deutsche Welle’s office in Moscow and strip employees of accreditation. In addition, broadcasting of Deutsche Welle via satellite and “other means of communication” will be banned in Russia.
What is missing is a legal justification for the end of Deutsche Welle in Russia. As a result, director Peter Limbourg spoke of “arbitrariness” and an “overreaction by the Russian government”. The Commission for Approval and Supervision (ZAK) had only ordered the broadcast of the television program RT DE, which has been on the air since December 16, 2021. All other media activities that RT has been operating in Germany since 2014, including video shows, are unaffected by this. The employees can continue to live and work unhindered in Germany.
Even before the order from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, RT DE announced that it would sue. The case raises a fundamental question: What media law options are there for dealing with foreign propaganda and disinformation without restricting media freedom?
“No political action against Russia”
The current decision of the ZAK related solely to the question of the location and thus the responsibility of the German authorities. ZAK assumes that the organizer is RT DE Productions GmbH, based in Berlin. Accordingly, the company would have to apply to the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB) for a nationwide television license.
Lawyer and media expert Anja Zimmer points out that in this case the same criteria were applied as in “Bild TV”. “Bild” also had to apply for a broadcasting license for its television program. “So this is simple law enforcement, not political action against Russia,” Zimmer said in an interview tagesschau.de.
The decisive factor is where the place of editorial responsibility is. A year ago, RT DE announced that it wanted to start a German television program at the end of 2021. It had advertised more than 200 jobs for the Berlin location and set up a studio and editorial offices in Berlin-Adlershof. At the start of the broadcast, RT DE Productions GmbH sent greeting cards from Berlin.
Circumvention of German rules prohibited
However, RT DE already changed its imprint in June 2021. Since then, the parent organization TV Novosti in Moscow has been given editorial responsibility. At that time, TV Novosti unsuccessfully applied for a television license in Luxembourg. TV Novosti finally obtained a broadcasting license in Serbia. It is valid in Germany on the basis of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT).
Zimmer refers to a regulation in this agreement: It must not be used to circumvent the regulations applicable in Germany. “That would be abuse of rights.” This is the case when a program is aimed at another state, but the organizer wants to evade the rules of this state – in this case the requirement of state distance in Germany.
State distance confirmed in court
In the case of another programme, this requirement stipulated in the Interstate Media Treaty led to the refusal of a broadcasting license due to financing from the Russian state budget, as is also the case with RT.
This is the radio station Mega Radio SNA. This did not receive a license for the Berlin DAB+ network in 2018. The reason: He is highly dependent on the Russian state media company Rossiya Segodnya. This delivered about twelve hours of programming daily and paid a fee to Mega Radio for this.
“In such a case, responsibility for the program lies with the person supplying the program,” explains Zimmer. The decision was confirmed by the administrative court and the higher administrative court in Berlin. The Federal Constitutional Court has also dealt with the case on several occasions.
Journalistic Due Diligence
Mega Radio SNA continues to broadcast on other DAB+ networks in Germany and on the Internet and was reprimanded by the Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein media authority in December: The supervisory authority criticized a news report on Covid-19 vaccinations supplied by SNA-Radio because ” information crucial for understanding the message content” was missing. This is a violation of the State Media Treaty.
Zimmer explains: “The media authorities can check whether journalistic duties of care have been observed. It is not checked whether the content is correct, but quite formally whether research has actually been carried out. The standard is the press code.”
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are “extremely important goods” in Germany. “The legislature has opted for very limited control.” There are few rules for dealing with disinformation and propaganda. Private individuals can defend themselves against insults and false statements of fact. Criminal law applies to defamation or Holocaust denial.
naming propaganda as such
Zimmer makes it clear: “Foreign state propaganda is not the same as independent journalism and should therefore not enjoy the same protection. Untrue statements of fact do not fall under freedom of expression.” Propaganda is a typical example of attacks on democratic institutions. You have to be able to defend yourself against that.
“In many cases it should help to call the child by its name.” In this respect, transparency is an important factor in regulation. “Because I can only classify it correctly if I know who is behind a piece of information.”