Legal protection of journalistic sources finalised

The Upper House of Parliament today adopted the legislative proposal by Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus to enshrine the protection of journalistic sources in law. This regulation, which acknowledges the importance of free access to information as well as the special position of journalists and publicists within society, will enter into force on 1 October 2018.

In practice this means that journalists serving as a witness in a criminal case are exempted from having to answer questions on the identity of their source. Answering questions is obligatory for witnesses under most circumstances. However, it was decided that the public interest is generally better served by a situation in which people can offer information to journalists without fear of prosecution. Ultimately, the court will decide whether or not the appeal to the protection of sources was justified. Exceptional circumstances may apply in which the importance of publishing sources may outweigh protecting them and prove necessary in combating very serious criminal offences. Examples include situations that pose a risk to national security or to the safety of individuals.
 
This legislative proposal also lays down stricter rules governing the application of coercive measures against journalists and publicists in criminal cases. For example, searching the editorial offices of a daily newspaper or a weekly magazine and confiscating their objects or articles they have written can in future take place only with the permission and in the presence of an examining magistrate, rather than on the authority of the public prosecutor. Even retrieving data on telephone communications between journalists and their source in order to identify the latter will not be permitted without the authorisation of the examining magistrate.

Ministry responsible