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Responding to Queries by Journalists

Queries from journalists need to be answered – but not immediately and not necessarily by you personally. Before providing information, you may consult your colleagues or other members of the university, you may forward the query to the appropriate location (e.g., supervisor, competent departments, the Office of News and Public Affairs), or you can refer the journalists directly to the Office of News and Public Affairs.

German Freedom of Information Act (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz)

The German legal system grants various rights to information and rights of inspection, some of them specific to journalists. As public-law corporations, universities are subject to the German Freedom of Information Act (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz), which grants all citizens the right to inspect the files of an institution of their choice. There are exceptions, however, including personal data and business and trade secrets.

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press serves the free democratic basic order. Together with freedom of expression, freedom of broadcast reporting, and freedom of information, it is enshrined in Article 5 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Freedom of the press guarantees the right to the free exercise of press activities and uncensored publication of information and opinions.

It is the job of the press to report on topics and events at public institutions. Journalists are not solely interested in communicating exciting research topics to a wider audience; media representatives are also under an obligation to take a critical view of science, academia, and research, investigate possible improper states of affairs and deficits in the science and academic system or at individual universities or institutes, and report on these issues with an eye to the formation of public opinion.

Right of the Press to Information

One freedom that is usually less well-known than freedom of the press is the right of the press to information. This is important in terms of working with the media. Those affiliated with the university are part of a public-law corporation and are therefore obligated to provide information to journalists.

“Putting journalists off” or presuming that there is fundamentally no obligation to respond to media inquiries is thus not legitimate. Inquiries must be answered (exceptions in the individual case prove the rule; see the right of the press to information, section 4 (2) of the Berlin Press Act). It is problematic when people who are affiliated with a university – and thus are part of a public-law corporation – make a practice of providing information only to specific journalists or a preferred editorial team (see the right of the press to information, section 4 (4) of the Berlin Press Act).

Our Recommendation

  • Seek advice from the Office of News and Public Affairs before responding and notify your supervisor where appropriate.
  • As a basic principle, refrain from saying anything you would not wish to see published.
  • Do not provide any information regarding individuals, such as your colleagues or superiors.
  • For university policy questions, it is advisable to contact the Office of News and Public Affairs right away.