Sophie Schriever from Germany, 29, has just completed her French-German Bachelor in Political Science, During her binational studies she spent a year at the Institut d`Etudes Politiques in Aix en Provence.

I was born in 1994 in Germany and have therefore lived in a free country ever since. However, only a couple of years before my birth, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press were not respected in all parts of Germany. I am referring to the German Democratic Republic of course, a state that eliminated and arrested political enemies on an everyday basis. Since the dissolution of the GDR and its absorption into West Germany, we can consider to be living in a free country and free press is an important element of our constitution. My thoughts therefore necessarily shift to the past when trying to associate journalism and prison in Germany. However, pressures on neutral reporting do exist even in liberal countries as Germany and the most prominent example that I witnessed personally was the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris on 7th of January this year.

I was in my first week of internship at the ARD studio in Paris when the assassination took place and I was involved in the whole coverage of this incident. Even when I came home late after work, my mind could not let go of thoughts concerning the event. The targeted victims of the attack were journalists, cartoonists. They were expressing their point of view and paid with their lives. Even if this brutal intervention in the right on freedom of expression is an extreme and not very representative example, it represents not only an attack on the lives of people, but also on a fundamental civil right. The symbolic range of this event became even more evident to me when I witnessed the French reaction. Hundreds of Parisians gathered spontaneously in the Place de la République on Wednesday evening, despite the fact that the Charlie Hebdo killers were still at large. On Sunday, even more people joined the Marche de la République to express their solidarity and support of the dead journalists. I felt an urgent need to participate, accompanying my French neighbours who obviously felt the same. One conversation with Laurent, the father, deeply marked me. I asked him if he was not afraid of some other attack happening at the march. He told me: “Of course, it’s possible that there is a mad guy with a Kalashnikov on top of the roof. But we have to go. It’s for the sake of our freedom. When we stay at home, the terrorists have won.” This sentence symbolizes the French attitude to counter this shocking attack. They demonstrated with their pure supportive mass how much the freedom of expression and the freedom of press mean to them, marginalizing the importance of this terrorist attack.
The Charlie Hebdo murder is an example for threat coming from the outside, being overrun by the power of a free and proud nation as France. The threat against freedom of expression can though come from the inside as well. Even if our democratic system has not the means to control the media, the constellation of our society has the effect, that some sorts of censorship take place.
Journalists reporting from politically interesting spots such as Berlin or Brussels most certainly face the decision to either retain their complete journalistic freedom or to receive additional information. The reason for this dilemma are behind-the-scenes discussions where politicians supply journalists with valuable information demanding at the same time that this information is not published with the indication of the source or else in a negative context with the source. The consequence of nonappropriate publication would be the journalist’s exclusion of the behind-the-scenes circle. These circles being only one knot in an intertwined network of politicians, managers and journalists, the question arises if neutral coverage can possibly be linked to the access to information. This networking does not automatically involve an output of falsified information, but it is in fact important to outline the conflict of interest resulting for the journalist in these situations.
In today’s cases, it is no longer the state who prescribes, but the actors who are in possession of information. Power has changed and beneath traditional power resources as military and economic might, information has taken an important place. It is therefore crucial to question the positions that appear in the daily coverage of news, especially when actors are involved who do not belong to the Western sphere. The Ukraine crisis included a tendency of alienation between the two poles, the West on the one side, Russia on the other side. The coverage of the situation inside these two groups of opponents differs substantially which can be perceived as major threat to the security situation. This claim becomes visible in Ukraine where the conflict it already turned into a war inside Europe which represents not only a conflict between Ukrainian political camps, but also involves the European Union and Russia. Mutual grating of attention and the avoidance of propaganda-led news coverage would certainly detent and most probably even solve the situation.

 Sophie Schriever