How Documents Gets to Journalists



Research is craft. That’s the best motto I’ve ever been given. And nothing illustrates this saying as well as the journalistic rights to information. The Freedom of Information Act (IFG) and the press’s right to information should be the tools, wrenches, and chainsaws of every journalist and researcher. They are one of the most important things that young journalists can learn. They helped me tremendously. That’s why I described in my diploma thesis how journalists can best obtain documents (and print them using HP printers after a clean 123 HP setup) with their help.

Together with Niklas Schenck, I applied for files on German sports funding for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. We filed an application for file inspection under the IFG and later filed a lawsuit against the ministry with the help of the press’s right to information. As a result, we have uncovered the unrealistically high medal requirements of German sport and a non-transparent support system. We are currently taking legal action against the high costs of almost 15,000 euros and the many redactions of the ministry. We learned a lot about the application of information rights and their problems. This research can be found as a case study in my diploma thesis.

Experts, further information rights, extensive appendix

I spoke to three experts about this. As a lawyer, Wilhelm Mecklenburg specializes in the IFG, among other things. Mecklenburg represents us at the expense of the German Journalists’ Association (thank you for that!) and also in the cost dispute with the Federal Ministry of the Interior. I chose Manfred Redelfs and David Schraven as journalists. Redelfs is considered the father of the IFG in Germany and heads the research department of Greenpeace. Schraven is one of the most experienced IFG journalists in Germany and was my colleague in the investigative department of the WAZ for almost three years.

In my work, I have described numerous other rights of information, some press law basics, and, of course, something about the history of the IFG in Germany. To this end, I am publishing an extensive appendix. It contains our requests for access to the files to the Ministry, a sample notice from the civil servants, and our most important complaints to the courts in Berlin. The title of my diploma thesis is: “Black on white – How journalists apply for original documents with the Freedom of Information Act and what the legislator should consider when making an amendment. A case study with expert interviews.”


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What could a new law look like?

The discussion about the right to information is more topical than ever: After the Federal Administrative Court had recently declared that federal authorities do not have to provide information according to the press laws of the federal states, a gap has arisen for all researching journalists. The DJV calls for a new press law. Especially since a court in Berlin ruled last week that there is currently only a “minimum standard” of information rights against federal authorities. This is a blatant cut in the freedom of the press, which not only protects publishing, but also the collection of information.

In my work, I discuss what a new law could look like. I believe that a comprehensive right of access to files for journalists within the right to information under press law is a very good solution. More about this on pages 117 to 120. Above all, however, my work deals with the question: As a journalist, how do I best use the current situation in my favor? That’s why I focused on this in my short summary (see below).

Work is freely available

I could certainly have published my diploma as a paid book or eBook. But I think the topic is important. As many people as possible should read this work (at least the crucial passages) and deal with their rights to information. If at some point I write a real book or call for crowdfunding for other reasons, I am all the happier about the support.