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Media Queries: Interviews and Journalistic Contributions

Dealing respectfully with one another as equals forms the basis for successful cooperation between scientists, scholars, and researchers on the one hand and representatives of the media on the other. It is advantageous to know the most important rights and obligations of both sides.

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.

Like all persons, scientists, scholars, and researchers have the fundamental right to determine for themselves how their own person is presented to others. However, you have no claim to having the full piece (or individual quotes) presented before publication.

Authorization of Quotes

Your personal rights include the right not to be misquoted. However, journalists are not required to present quotes that are intended for publication as such to interviewees except if this has been agreed beforehand (preferably in writing, such as by e-mail). The option of a contractual agreement, for example for a comprehensive TV documentary, should be weighed against the scope and importance of the piece, how current the topic is, the time pressure associated with it. With or without authorization of quotes, what is said can be paraphrased or stated indirectly in the article, interpreted differently, and published that way.

Recording an Interview

Sound recordings without the prior consent of the interviewees are not allowed. The journalist has to obtain your consent beforehand. If the journalist does not bring up this point, be sure to clarify it before an interview if you have any doubts.

Our Recommendation

Offer to journalists to review the planned print, radio, or TV piece for factual (subject-specific) accuracy (and nothing else) before publication. Like you, journalists also have an interest in ensuring that no false facts are asserted under their name.

Representatives of the media require official approval from Freie Universität, which has the right to make and enforce house rules (Hausrecht), to film or take photographs on the grounds and in all the buildings of Freie Universität.

Approval to Film and/or Take Photographs

TV journalists can request approval from the Office of News and Public Affairs by e-mail. No particular form is required for this, and approval is generally granted, even being granted quickly in the case of current topics. In the case of extensive film or video recordings or advertising films, however, more lead time must be scheduled for internal coordination.

House Rules (Hausrecht) and the Right to Assembly

In principle, the university has the right to make and enforce house rules (Hausrecht) and can thus deny access to its buildings and grounds. However, under freedom of assembly, representatives of the press – unlike other groups – cannot be excluded from public assemblies in principle. Section 6 (2) of the Assembly Act (Versammlungsgesetz) grants journalists free access to public assemblies taking place in closed rooms (events that serve the formation of public opinion or expression of opinions) so that they can comply with their duty to provide information vis-à-vis the public.

Our Recommendation

Journalists must present their valid press identification or other documentation (accreditation). The event organizer is permitted to demand and check this documentation. For various reasons, including for your planning purposes, you should ask journalists to register (provide accreditation) before an event. This information should state the journalist’s name and the editorial contact details. At the event site, compare the registrations against the journalists who arrive for the event, and set out an additional list where journalists who are not registered can sign in.

Journalists are not obliged to provide you with copies or recordings of contributions.

If you would like to have reference copies or radio/TV recordings, you should raise this point with the journalist before the interview. Editors generally accommodate these requests, at least by providing links to the published pieces.

No, you are not permitted to use articles that report on you and your research or depictions showing you for your publications or website without the consent of the copyright holder.

Journalistic Contributions Are Protected by Copyright

Copyright protects personal intellectual creations. The copyright arises and is applicable from the time of creation of a certain work. These works include texts and speeches, photographs, films, and videos, paintings, graphic works, and drawings, as well as maps, plans, and tables and also include works of journalism, such as newspaper articles and online articles. Copyright infringement can be costly.

Our Recommendation

You are not permitted to use articles that report on you and your research or depictions showing you for your publications or website without the consent of the copyright holder. You are not permitted to include things like PDFs or scans of newspaper clippings or screenshots, but as an alternative, you can post links to the relevant online piece by the medium in question. Bear in mind, however, that these links are generally not valid for a long time.

Journalists must adhere to copyright laws when reporting on your work.

Within the meaning of copyright law, journalists are allowed to quote from your scientific work – provided that they cite the source accordingly – and thus present individual depictions of your works via literal quotes within the meaning of the laws on quoting.

Every person has a right to his or her own image; likenesses cannot be shown or disseminated except with the consent of the person depicted.

If you have granted your consent to the media to take pictures, you must also accept that images that you do not like or that do not portray you in a positive light may be published in newspapers or TV recordings.

Our Recommendation

Please be sure to also keep the above points in mind if you wish to use pictures of colleagues or work situations: Do you have the rights to do so? Please also note that if you wish to use photographs of colleagues or work situations, they have the right to their own image.