Is there any freedom of speech in Europe and how do journalists work there? This is what we asked a foreign affairs specialist in Eastern Europe, political expert from Leipzig (Germany) - Jan Jagiello-Schönfelder.
In his materials specially prepared for News24UA Jan Jagiello-Schönfelder said that journalism in Germany strictly adhered to the principles of truthful public information and respect for human dignity, having emphasized that there was no censorship in Germany (in the truest sense of the word), but it had successfully been replaced by ... silence. As a result, according to the level of freedom of speech, "Reporters Without Borders" have put Germany on the 17th place in Europe.
For more information about freedom of speech in Germany read in the material authored by German political scientist Jan Jagiello-Schönfelder.
So-called taboo subjects turn to be important factors in limiting the freedom of speech. Famous German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has repeatedly spoken publicly about the fact that certain subjects are put under a ban and taboos dominate in the public discussion in Germany.
The man, who against the background of the financial crisis speaks against the euro, may feel insecurely in society. Fears of such people are very rarely reflected in the media, because there is a common axiom: "The euro gives us peace and so-called European mutual understanding." Because of the society self-censorship, not all the details concerning the issue of the financial crisis in the European Union are discussed. Thus, in accordance with Article 5 of the Constitution, the censorship in general does not exist and is forbidden. However, it is replaced by silence in Germany.
This phenomenon has been studied by the sociologist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in the 70-ies of the last century. People have fear of social isolation. One who is suspected of violating these taboos is punished in the form of a tainted reputation, loss of position, and no one wants to be on the fringe of society.
Breaking the taboo is the loss of position
The most famous example of a public person, who broke the taboo subject, even at the risk to lose position, is a former manager of the Federal Bank and former senator of finance in Berlin Thilo Sarrazin. As a member of the Council of Federal Bank, in 2009, he gave interview to one not very well-known publication "Lettre", provoking a big scandal by one word-metaphor. Sarrazin used the German word “Kopfttuchmädchen”, connecting nouns “Kopftuch” (kerchief) and “Mädchen” (girl). This word has become a symbol of the resonance public discussion about what may publicly be said and what may not.
The interview dealt with the integration of young Turks, with cultural, educational and language issues, the result of which was a high quota of young people. In this environment, more than 30 percent of them have not completed secondary education. The senator pointed out the social problems but in a pretty rough way, and having used the metaphor he expected the public response. But the response was so deafening that in the end the official was dismissed.
Political Correctness is above all
This was preceded by a broad-ranging discussion about what is not allowed to be spoken publicly and in what form social problems may be characterized. Basically it refers to these five subjects: immigrants integration, welfare protection for people depending on so-called "social care"; subjects concerning historical past, especially in relation with Israel, opportunity to criticize or not criticize this state in connection with the Holocaust and the feeling of guilt for the terrible crimes of the Century; the rights of sexual minorities; woman subject and quotas application for that everything be 50 to 50 as a postulate. The discussion of these controversial subjects is complicated by so-called political correctness.
Political correctness highly complicates to clearly define and discuss important social issues. There are a lot of sensitive subjects, which should be spoken politically correct but then there is no desire to discuss them, because after critical comments on the euro, EU policy and monetary policy one may get the label of "nationalist and anti-European"; for criticizing the status of the family and the rights of sexual minorities - "man of the 19th century and homophobe", for criticizing the contemporary Israeli politics - the" anti-Semite ", which immediately leads to the public death.
There is no ideal world. Political Correctness is as a remedy
The negative effects of political correctness are felt in other countries of the European Union. Political correctness leads to the neglect of socially important subjects therefore it helps to build the ideal world where all the people are highly moral, friendly, unanimously approve the principle of European understanding.
But political correctness can not cure all the problems of today. Of course, the correctness of the statements is necessary, but it is equally important to clearly define socially important and sensitive issues and discuss them. So far as ignoring the problems does not help to solve them. The consequences of the correctness imbalance may be terrible, as we have seen in the examples of other countries of the European Union. Clashes in the Paris suburbs have become commonplace. Disorders in London shocked the entire world two years ago. Sweden, allegedly the most social state turned to be plunged into a nightmare as a result of dissatisfaction of immigrants.
The printed word is dying
The printed word is dying; it gives way to new forms of media – short messages via Twitter on the Internet, author blogs, and content reflected on the tablets, smartphones, and computers. This is because of objective factors including economic ones.
Gradually popular print publications lose their positions. Here are a few unfortunate examples: December 7, 2012, one of the most well-known business publications - Financial Times Deutschland was closed for economic reasons after 12 years of its existence. At the market of print publications, in fact there is only one daily newspaper – Handelsblatt. This situation significantly reduced the level of competition. Both freedom of speech and freedom of press require that the reader has the access to different kinds of information and comments of respected publications.
Publications of local and state-level first of all have the task to control the power and objectively cover all the events and issues in such spheres as economic, political and cultural life, and sport. The implementation of this task requires the sufficient number of publications with different directions, which form a competitive environment and provide access to the objective information and competitive opinions. But today, there is an obvious decrease in the number of correspondents and print publications in general.
So, News agency DAPD, which was formed in 2010 after the merger of the agency DDP and the American news agency AssociatedPress (AP), announced its bankruptcy in October 2012. In November of the same year the Publishing office, which publishes a well-known nationwide daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau was found in insolvency.
At the national level there is still great number of competitive publications. So much worse situation is with providing the citizens with objective information at the local level. To survive, the various publications unite their offices. Some traditional old publications with over 100 years of history stopped issuing. So, in Barsinghausen, Deister-Leine-Zeitung stopped issuing after 125 years of its existence. September, 29 last year, was the last time to see the light for one of the oldest newspapers in Germany Abendzeitung in Nuremberg.
Materials on order at a rise
According to the data from the organization "Reporters Without Borders", there is an obvious trend of increasing in enterprises and PR-agencies investments in printing their texts in the media, so very often objective information is interspersed in journalistic articles with commercial content. In most cases, it happens unconsciously. Readers require efficiency, but because of decreasing in stuff members, those who were left do not have time to digest all the information.
Because of budgetary constraints, especially on the stuff members, the publications are forced to reprint ready-made materials, such as foreign policy events from correspondents of press agency, as their representatives are not more in their positions. Not every press agency is represented in Ukraine. In foreign countries, usually one reporter works at every publishing house, and their materials are reprinted by all the publications. As a result there is no choice between different opinions, publications; the reader loses the opportunity to receive full-scale information professionally prepared. That is, the problems that exist today at the media market, both in Ukraine and in Europe are virtually identical. They are because of global economic trends and information consumption by the end users.
Freedom of speech is expensive
Today people are not too eager to pay for the printed word, which in efficiency gives way to the Internet. But the question is how much they are willing to pay for the content and Internet. And when the market is shrinking to ensure the freedom of speech is much more difficult. Both Ukraine and Europe place the question of survival on the agenda, leading to an increase in demand for articles on order.
In addition, "Reporters Without Borders" complain on some problems of transparency in communication with the executive branch and administration at the local level. In Ukraine there is current Law "On Access to Public Information." In Germany, in Hessen, Niedersachsen, Sachsen, Baden-Württemberg and Bayern, so far they do not have such a law. Only since last October, the law on access to public information acts in Hamburg.
Do they have to pay for the access to public information?
There were times when the access to public information demanded astronomical sums of money. An example of such an absurd is given by the "Reporters Without Borders": in May 2011 two journalists who wished to learn about the ambitions of competitors, demanded access to complete information about the Summer Olympics, addressed with an information request to the Federal Ministry of Interior, to which the sportsmen training is subjected. This information request was paid in the sum of € 7,000. Federal law provides with 4 weeks for the execution of the information request by certain bodies of the executive power, but even after 14 months it was not 100 per cent executed. Therefore, in July last year journalists were forced to apply to the Administrative Court in Berlin, demanding access to complete information on the Summer Olympics. The court ruled in their favor.
As you can see, not everything is perfect in Germany, but you may win the court against the government.
Europe is not perfect, but Ukraine has always been there
Europe and Ukraine have much in common: common problems in the field of political correctness, the formation of historical memory, etc. it is important that Ukrainians understand that not everything in the European Union is priori fine. During my stay in Ukraine I’ve noticed all those advertisements on European-style, Euro-education, everything connected with the prefix "euro" means that it’s perfect. This confirms that Ukrainians should go forward confidently and take Europe and the European Union more pragmatically.
But Ukraine is Europe, and it has always been Europe. Ukraine does not need to learn democratic values. The first Ukrainian Constitution of 1710 provided with the distribution of powers between the different branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. In Continental Europe a similar Constitution appeared in May, 3, 1791 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore Ukrainians should remember that they have a historical trump. Taking into account democratic values and traditions, which today are pointed out by the European Union, Ukraine is 81 years ahead of Europe.
Strong international entity
Ukraine should not choose between different unions. It is necessary as a strong international entity that has interest with the world, to choose its strategy. There is potential for this. There is no need to go on knees pleading whosoever. Your country, Ukraine is capable of conquering world markets, is capable to interest big investors to invest in oil and gas, metallurgy, machine-building industry, aircraft construction, tourism, bio-products. And choosing Europe, do not throw away other markets particularly Asian markets. Thus, Ukraine could become a large and reliable bridge between the West and the East that means the state interesting for all. But uncertainty will lead to chaos and abyss.
Therefore, I think that Ukraine should think primarily about itself, its reforms, values, especially as the European values have been in Ukraine for a long time and sometimes they were more than 80 years ahead of Europe!
Jan Jagiello-Schönfelder (Germany), exclusively for News24UA
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