Zeit Online will no longer give assignments to a freelance journalist because a member of the Bundestag complained about her. A textbook on unwritten laws that (don’t) govern the relationship between politicians and journalists
On 22. In January 2008, freelance journalist Susanne Harpfer landed a small scoop: She revealed in ZEIT online under the headline "Attack on the secrecy of letters" that Deutsche Post supplies data on all letters and parcels sent to the U.S. to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The more lax American laws thus surreptitiously undermine the German secrecy of correspondence, which includes information about the sender and recipient. Other media gratefully took up the topic. Heise headlined: "Massive encroachment on fundamental rights".
One of the customs of journalistic work is to extract even more honey from a cute topic. One asks the usual suspects: Experts, big and small politicians and various backbenchers who can’t hold their water. As in this case, it hails confirmations, retractions, protests, praise and censure. An article multiplies – and with it the fee vital to freelance journalists. It has been that way since Konrad Adenauer, from whom the royal sentence has been handed down: "I give you the answer to fifty percent lie, then you earn still something at the denial." Susanne Harpfer added several times in ZEIT online. On 29.01. appeared protest against disclosure of postal data, on 12.02. Clammy data transfer.
On 13. The Bundestag’s Committee on Internal Affairs met on February. Chairman is SPD member of parliament Sebastian Edathy. Politicians like Edathy, who devote themselves to domestic politics, usually like to act tough, take action and like to smash and ban the loose, for example the NPD. Kurz: Domestic policy is not for wimps and needs strong men and characters.
Susanne Harpfer was given the task by Ludwig Greven, Head of Text Germany, of following up the ie of postal data transfer to the USA. As a staff member of ZEIT online, she interviewed Edathy by telephone shortly after the meeting of the Interior Committee: The committee had discussed the topic because of the reports in ZEIT online and requested a supplementary report from the Federal Ministry of Economics, because the parliamentarians did not feel sufficiently informed.
The first dissonances already occurred during the interview: Edathy perceived the journalist as "very aggressive", she had not "Understanding" upset that he had not been able or willing to provide her with more detailed information. This speaks either for an undiplomatic behavior of Susanne Harpfer or for professional interviewing: If you get on the nerves of an interview partner to such an extent that he gets upset or spontaneously loses the catch, you often get more and better information than in conversations characterized by courtly small talk and mutual courtly consideration. Persistent questioning is a cardinal virtue of investigative journalism in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, even if the interviewee feels mentally overstrained afterwards. In the U.S. and England, no journalist would even think of taking what was said into account "authorize" . This is a typical German custom, which is unique in democratic Europe and which can only be explained by the strong tradition of the authoritarian state in this country. The unwritten "Law" The unwritten law of authorization demands the anticipatory submission of the young journalists, who think that this is the way it has to be, and lives from the fact that everyone silently goes along with it, because no one dares to proclaim that the emperor is naked. There is no legal basis for authorizations anyway.
Another article by Susanne Harpfer was not published by ZEIT online after all. They wanted to wait until the Internal Affairs Committee had decided something after reading the requested position statement. The journalist also offered a text on the subject to Telepolis, which was published on 14 September.02.was published with the title "Aushebelung des Postgeheimnisses. In it, Edarthy is quoted three times in a not very favorable way: He didn’t want to admit something, was deflecting and was trying to "downplay the data protection debacle". The content of the trenchant sentences can be justified, especially since they are unambiguously recognizable as the author’s commentary on what has been said.
It is normal for politicians to be angry with journalists. Harsh letters of complaint to editors-in-chief are also part of everyday life. What is unusual, however, is when a politician tries to put prere on a medium and even uses his personal contacts with the editor as a weapon. Sebastian Edathy sent the 02.03. a three-page fax to the editor-in-chief of ZEIT online, in which he sharply attacked the journalist. He was astonished, "that I find on the page our site – a private forum – a name article by Ms. Harpfer (…), which could hardly be more tendentious." He is misquoted there, the sentences are not authorized and "reproduced in an alienated context." What exactly was wrong with the quotes, Edathy was not able to say even when asked. Harpfer’s behavior, he writes, "unprofessional" and "unjournalistic", her articles are "Gesinnungs-Journalismus", "fact-poor", "insinuating" and "malicious. In the fax to ZEIT online Edathy asks for a statement and the editors to pay attention to it,
to have verbatim quotations authorized before publication, if this is not already done in the interview, and to refrain from tendentious reports that contradict the professionalism of ‘Die Zeit’. I am, also from personal acquaintance with Theo Sommer, somewhat appalled about the contribution of Mrs. Harpfer on our site (…) For the time being, however, I will continue to publish a reference to a collaboration with ‘Zeit online’" be skeptical.
Edathy stand Susanne Harpfer "not be available for any information." He will also represent the other 35 members of the "of the Interior Committee of the German Bundestag, which I chair" to be informed about the outcome of the case."
The speech is strong Tobak and gives guesses, why here someone the verbal artillery against a few flapsige sentences rises, instead of seeing the thing sportily. Every politician would naturally like to determine in which medium what he has said will appear. That became each advertising agency because of "corporate identity" recommend. Edathy emphasizes to Telepolis that he has a right to know where to publish. "For example, I was never available to ‘Junge Freiheit’ as an interview partner." Every journalist, however, would like to use interviews with extremely important persons as much as possible in second and multiple ways. German publishers often do not want to spend money on this, they want all rights to articles to be transferred and permission to publish the journalistic products of freelancers online free of charge. Whoever, as a politician, wants to force a free journalist to sell information and quotes only to a medium of his own choice, is thinking out of the world. Neither Edathy nor his staff obviously had time to inform themselves about Telepolis, which truly is not a "private forum" just like our site.
The politician’s fax had serious consequences for Susanne Harpfer. In an affidavit, she states that Ludwig Greven of ZEIT online called her on her cell phone on March 3. March on her cell phone:
In this phone call he told me that Mr. Sebastian Edathy (chairman of the interior committee) had complained to his house about my critical reporting at Heise on the subject of postal data exchange with the USA. In response, Mr. Greven told me that the editorial staff of ZEIT online would therefore comply with Mr. Edathy’s (SPD) request and would no longer give me, as a freelance journalist, an assignment.
The facts are largely undisputed between the two sides "Parties". But all parties interpret it differently in each case. The topic is also being discussed in the partly Hamish hallway of the ZEIT online editorial office, and questions are being asked as to why the dispute had become so "out of control" be. Some journalists consider the head of the text department to be a choleric person, from whose office delicate colleagues have already come out crying. Harpoon, on the other hand, is difficult and "overcommitted", The frequency of her e-mails to the editor-in-chief borders on stalking. Greven admits that the phone call in question might have gone differently if the journalist hadn’t immediately empor "the crude club" had swung. He feels it is unfair that Harpfer did not inform Edathy of his intention to use his quotes elsewhere.
All tried to put oil on the fire. Edathy announces on 11.04. by e-mail, he amed to be talking to a serious journalist. "A misjudgement, as it turned out." Harpfer informs Edathy that "Because of the special (media) importance of this matter, I will make it public. "Further presentation reserved." Greven writes another email to the fired author: "By the way, I would like to ask you not to claim untruthfully to others that we are bowing to political prere from Mr. Edathy or others. This only harms themselves." One can take this as a threat. Sensitive natures were impressed by this. Who of members of the Bundestag as "aggressively" is estimated, may feel even more spurred on.
The weekly newspaper ZEIT awarded the Marion Donhoff Prize six times so far. People who receive this award "make no concessions to public, fashion, career. They are completely without fear." Maybe the ZEIT wishes that there are not so many people with these characteristics. That would have been very exhausting for the chief editor.