Mr. Yücel, Mr. Mayor Jakobs, Mrs. Pohl, dear attendees, ladies and gentlemen.
In the 18th century, citizens fought for their independence in the United States. They gave themselves a written constitution and in that constitution they wrote the unbreakable right to express their own opinion. Because no one can live in dignity under the dictates of another. In the first constitutional amendment, the founding fathers of the United States then enshrined freedom of the press as an institutionalised form of freedom of expression. Freedom of the press is derived from freedom of expression and is therefore a human right. In other words, the liberality of a society is measured by the freedom of journalists to do their work. If they are restricted, insulted or imprisoned, then in the end all members of society, including ourselves, are restricted in their rights and freedom.
In open societies, in every society, there are conflicts. This is part of the essence of human life. But documenting conflicts, expressing them, debating them is already the first step towards reconciling society with itself. If in societies debate and critical reporting about facts is suppressed, then exactly this possibility of reconciliation and common progress is missing. Then a society brutalizes and rivalry determines coexistence. Journalists do this work on behalf of all of us. They control those in power – and I say it as a representative of the FDP. I don’t know whether you noticed that there is occasionally critical writing about us and I have to admit that I don’t like everything, not everything is correct. But nevertheless I would always defend the freedom of journalists to write something crooked, even in case of doubt.
Because in the system of an open society and free media this corrects itself in the end. In 1962, DER SPIEGEL headlined “Conditionally Ready to Defend”. It was the beginning of the SPIEGEL affair. Indiscretions from within the armed forces about NATO’s autumn exercise have confirmed that the Bundeswehr could not make its contribution to the Western alliance at that time. The government’s reaction was to search SPIEGEL’s editorial offices, arrest journalists and even fly them back to Germany from other European countries. And I maintain, that this was a critical moment in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. We have had a liberal constitution since 1949, the “Wirtschaftswunder” (“economic miracle”) was at its peak and was developing. But this SPIEGEL affair was the critical moment in the development of the Federal Republic of Germany. For if there had not been resistance from the centre of society and parliament and the governing coalition itself against the attempt to intimidate and restrict the freedom of the press, then the further development of the Federal Republic of Germany might have taken a different course. It is not enough to have a written liberal constitution. Also the Weimar Republic had this. In addition to the written liberal constitution, it also needs people, personalities who are willing to take risks in order to live the spirit of the constitution and its liberality. If there hadn’t been such conflicts in the German Bundestag at that time, and if there hadn’t been a government crisis either, Germany’s future might not have been that of a liberal democracy, but of an authoritarian one.
These lines of development and the choices we are making may perhaps show one thing: the liberality of a society and the freedom of opinion and of the press never have been won for all time. In Europe we look to Poland and Hungary, where the written constitutions continue to guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but where governments enter into open opposition to the free press, declare it a bogeyman and thus restrict the diversity of opinion and the exercise of the press. We are looking to Turkey, on the occasion of today’s award winner, where journalists are accused and imprisoned.
Mr. Yücel, how much we have followed your fate and have been excited. We saw in DIE WELT at that time how you had to live, in which cell and under which conditions. And how much we rejoice and are relieved that you can be here among us today. You are at the same time a reminder and an appeal to be vigilant in our society. When journalists are restricted in their work in Dresden or Chemnitz or in other places, victims are attacked or when the media is badly spoken about at our regulars’ tables.
Above all, Mr Yücel, you are a reminder that the human rights and civil rights situation in Turkey is anything but good. We are a country that bears international responsibility. The Federal Republic of Germany also has a geostrategic interest in Turkey’s development and in intact relations with Turkey. We are and must be realists, but we are realists bound by values. There has been a referendum in Turkey because the country is developing towards an Islamist presidential dictatorship and many hundreds of journalists are being restricted in their work. Especially as diplomacy also has something to do with the right timing. To put it bluntly, I think the timing is bad. Now, of all times, to invite the Turkish President to Germany for a state visit with military honours and to honor him with a state banquet. A working visit, yes. But this subsequent legitimisation of the regime in Turkey will not encourage him to reconsider and improve the human rights situation in Turkey, but I expect him to use it more for propaganda purposes.
In the United States too, ladies and gentlemen, the development of freedom of the press is in a bad state. In recent years, the United States has fallen back to 45 out of 180 in the world press freedom ranking. You, Mr Jacobs, have just referred to the President’s current tweets, which accuse the media of lying, of fake news, which refuses to take questions from certain journalists. And that says something about the inner climate of a society. When people in power talk about and with journalists in this way, they contribute to a society as a whole becoming brutalised. To pay attention to one’s own language, even when dealing with the critical questions of journalists, is a matter of state wisdom if one wants to prevent the poisoning of society as a whole.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I have spoken about the external freedom of the press, I want to close with the internal freedom of the press. Because it too can be threatened. External freedom of the press is everything that concerns the relationship between the public and journalists, between the state and the media. The internal freedom of the press describes what happens in editorial offices and in journalism itself. Internal freedom of the press can be threatened by monopolies or the assault of a publisher or editor-in-chief who wants to impose an opinion on individual authors. Internal freedom of the press can also be threatened in other ways.
This summer I was in Washington talking to Charles Lane, the chief editorialist of the “Washington Post”. And he reported that there is now a front position in the United States against the president and his policies. And just as the President does not moderate himself in his statements and insults, so does the furor of journalists against this President increase. Like this rivalry is growing and society brutalizes. Hans-Joachim Friederichs once said that a good journalist should not make himself mean to anything, not even a good one. I find an attitude in journalism an advantage. Journalists are also people who don’t report facts aseptically, there is always an attitude shining through. But the question is, and this is what I thought of when I talked to Lane in Washington, whether it is an attitude or whether it has to be many attitudes. So the question of the plurality of opinions in journalism is called for. If the impression is created that there is only one attitude of journalism towards facts or towards politics, then the free press delegitimises itself.
That is why I would like to conclude with an appeal to the journalists who are doing their work in Germany to have the courage to disagree. To seek dialogue with the citizens by not having a fixed journalistic line, but by ensuring that there is more diversity, competition and controversy in journalism. Because that is the best prerequisite to live inner freedom of the press and to preserve a diverse society. Today we honour a journalist with precisely this attitude and with precisely this courage. I hope that many will take you as an example not to be intimidated by a state. But also not to be intimidated by the expectations of others as to what opinion they should hold. I think we all profit from it if we put our freedom, which is written in the constitution, into practice also in daily life. Whether we write and broadcast or read and watch. Thank you very much.