German Football Federation attacks critical sports journalist with lies
21.11.2008By Kirsten Sparre
|Jens Weinreich at Play the Game 2007. Photo: Niels Nyholm. Photo can be downloaded in print quality from here, and republished, provided credit is given to Niels Nyholm and Play the Game.|
Critical sports journalists should choose their words carefully when blogging about sports officials. In Germany, freelance journalist and former sports editor of the Berliner Zeitung, Jens Weinreich, has become the target of an aggressive campaign by the German Football Federation (DFB) after he described DFB president Theo Zwanziger as an “incredible demagogue” in a posting on a German sports blog.
Zwanziger felt that the use of the word “demagogue” was defamatory because in Germany it can also refer to the Third Reich and its leadership's incitement to racial and ethnic hatred.
Since July, the DFB president has pursued the matter as a case of libel in two courts of law – both of which he lost. In November, he sent Weinreich a fax threatening to take him to a third court in Koblenz, where Zwanziger himself had served as judge and regional president for a long time, unless the journalist publicly declared that he did not mean to imply that Zwanziger could be compared to people from the old Nazi party.
Weinreich refused to distance himself from something he never said, and last week the DFB changed its mode of attack and sent an e-mail to more than 100 decision makers in sports and politics with a press release that denounced Weinreich for campaigning against Zwanziger.
“We can not tolerate that people in the public eye are defamed for no good reason on more or less anonymous blogs. This time it happened to our DFB president Dr. Theo Zwanziger, but tomorrow it could happen to anybody else,” the secretary general of DFB, Wolfgang Niersbach, wrote in the e-mail that has been obtained by Weinreich and posted on his German language blog. (click here to read).
18 lies in DFB press release
According to Weinreich, the press release contains no less than 18 lies and omissions of truth, and among other things claims that Weinreich has retracted his statement as demanded by DFB which he never did.
On his blog, Weinreich details and documents all the problems in the press release one by one including the fact that it does not mention that Zwanziger has failed to convince two different courts of law that Weinreich defamed him.(click here to read). And he concludes:
“The truth is: I have characterized the president of the DFB as a demagogue, I have justified this, but I have not defamed him. The truth is: Two courts agree.”
All recipients of e-mail disclosed
In an interview with SportsWire.de, Weinreich explains that he has learned who all the recipients of the e-mail were because the secretary general of DFB had added all recipients to the ‘cc’ field of the e-mail instead of hiding them in the ‘bcc’ field. Therefore he knows that the DFB has encouraged a wide range of sports officials, national sports politicians and journalists to use the information in the e-mail against him.
“What the DBF is doing against me is not only unacceptable, but also highly scandalous. I hope it is possible to take the matter to court. They are threatening my existence,” Weinreich says to SportsWire.de
To Play the Game, Weinreich expands: “It is truly defamation and my lawyers are working very hard. I never had such an unbelievable experience before. It is shocking. They want to destroy my journalistic reputation. They want to destroy a critical voice.”
European journalists' federation criticises DFB
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has called DFB's action “a shocking example of intimidation of a journalist who is raising matters of public concern.”
“It is clear that the administrators of German football are not taking the decisions of the courts seriously and merely want to harass and disrupt proper scrutiny of their affairs,” says Aidan White, secretary general of EFJ in a press statement.
When a journalist is subject to public attack such as this it is important to push back hard, White believes.
“Public figures must accept that their actions are subject to analysis and fair comment. This intemperate response is worrying, not least because it suggests they have much to hide.”
The German Union of Journalists and the Association of German sports journalists have also called on DFB to end its disagreement with Weinreich.
Please note: Jens Weinreich is an outspoken critic not only of affairs in sports politics but also of sports journalism in general. He has been a member of Play the Game’s Programme Committee since 2007, and in 2006 he and others set up a network for critical sports journalists in Germany called Sportnetzwerk.