German newspapers don’t need to ‘ensure that 75% of articles are factual or called magazines’

Posts on Facebook and Twitter have shared a claim that newspapers in Germany must guarantee that 75% of their stories are factual, and that any newspaper unable to do so must instead designate itself as a magazine. However, the claim is false. The German government, the German Press Council and media specialists told AFP that there is no such policy or regulation in the country.

“Attention Labor Government,” reads this Facebook post, dated June 20, 2023.

The post shares an alleged screenshot of a tweet that reads: “In Germany, if a newspaper cannot GUARANTEE that 75% of its articles are factual, it is not allowed to call itself a log.

“It is, officially, a magazine and MUST refer to itself as such.

“Oh, just imagine that rule in Australia.”

Screenshot of misleading post, taken July 7, 2023

The alleged screenshot, which appeared to have been shared by an Instagram account, was digitally altered from a tweet posted here on June 10.

The original tweet, which has been retweeted over 1,400 times, made the same claim but ended with “Oh just imagine this rule in the UK…” – not “Oh just imagine this rule in Australia”.

Screenshots of the tweet also circulated on Facebook here, here, here and here.

However, the claim is false.

No regulations, requirements or restrictions

Nadja Wochmer, spokeswoman for the German government’s commissioner for culture and media, told AFP: “There are no legal regulations that would define printed newspapers as requiring 75% factuality.”

Dr Maja Malik, from the Department of Communication at the University of Münster in western Germany, said: “Media law in Germany makes no distinction between newspapers and journals or magazines.”

“Freedom of the press also includes the fact that there are no admission requirements for newspapers and no testing procedures to determine which publications qualify as such,” she told the AFP.

Dr Pascal Juergens, from the Institute of Communication Studies at the University of Jena, Germany, said there are “no licensing or licensing requirements, and no restrictions on who may be called a newspaper or magazine”.

Instead, the press is voluntarily self-regulated by the German Press Council, he told AFP.

Juergens added that there are laws that define facts and opinions, but they are mainly used to direct liability, for example in cases of alleged defamation and personal attacks, “not because that would determine how a media can be called”.

Sonja Volkmann-Schluck, spokeswoman for the German Press Council, also told AFP the claim in the messages was “not true”.

She added that newspapers and magazines in Germany have pledged to uphold the principles of truthfulness and due diligence in the German Press Code.

“Published news or statements, including those of a personal nature, which subsequently prove to be inaccurate shall be promptly and appropriately corrected by the publication concerned,” reads Article 3 of the press code.

“Almost all newspapers, magazines and their online outlets in Germany follow these principles and participate in our complaints procedures,” Volkmann-Schluck said.

AFP also found no mention of redefining newspapers into magazines if 75% of their articles are not factual in the German press code.