Germany has a statutory right of reply in the media. Maximilian Ruhenstroth-Bauer explains a path to defending your reputation without going to court.
The right of reply is an attainment of the French Revolution and is based on the principle audiatur et altera pars – the right to be heard. It entitles people, who feel they have been unfairly portrayed or defamed by a media report, to have a response published by the same outlet. In Germany, the right of reply was first introduced in the state of Baden in 1831 and then through the Imperial Press Law of 1874 as a “demand for correction”. Though it is now recognised as a statutory concept in the German legal system stipulated through the Länder (federal states) press laws, the right of reply is also derived from the provisions of the Basic Law as press freedoms find their limits in the right to personal honour. To this effect, the right of reply – in addition to legislative options such as cease-and-desist declarations and rectifications – is not merely constitutionally permissible but required, even though it is not expressly mandated by the constitutional text. Under the German legal system, a positive obligation is imposed on the state to safeguard individuals against the media’s impact on their reputation and dignity.
The various press laws in the federal states, which display considerable similarity, regulate the rights and responsibilities of the press in accordance with the Basic Law. Rather than providing the public access to the media, the purpose of the right of reply as stipulated in the press laws is to protect individuals from false defamation. However, as opinions and subjective expression of value judgements are excluded from it, the right of reply in Germany is restricted to statements of fact. Any individual, association, company, public authority, whether German or foreign, can request to reply in the national media. The reply must not be defamatory and should not exceed the original statement in length. Typically, the press laws stipulate that it is to be published, free of charge, in the next possible issue of a publication, in the same section, and in the same type as the original statement. If an editor refuses the request, reply claims can be enforced through judicial injunction by a civil court.