General News

‘Privacy’: What is legally protected?


The reporting on Lena Schilling in recent weeks has led to a political and media discussion (including on social networks) about the extent of privacy protection and what is meant by ‘private’. Under media law (Section 7 MedienG), every person is protected against the portrayal or discussion of their highly personal sphere of life in a medium and can assert claims for compensation against this medium. This protection of the highly personal sphere of life under media law corresponds to the constitutionally guaranteed right to protection of private and family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Protection under media law does not cover a person's entire private sphere but, according to case law and legal commentaries, only their highly personal affairs. These are only those ‘whose knowledge by outsiders affects personal integrity to a particular degree’. In any case, highly personal matters include physical matters (e.g. state of health, hospital stays, medical treatment), mental states, sexual behaviour and relationships with family and closest confidants. The exposing presentation of a comprehensive ‘life or character portrait’ can also belong to the protected area.

Whether a violation of the protected area has occurred must always be assessed on the basis of the specific publication. Claims for violation of the highly personal sphere of life do not exist if the publication is true and is directly related to public life. As a rule, public life also includes political life, including activities in political parties. If such a connection to political life or political activity actually exists in the reporting, true facts from the particularly protected highly personal sphere of life may also be reported as an exception.

However, whether such a close connection to public life exists must always be assessed on the basis of the specific circumstances of the individual case and always in relation to the specific publication. The type, presentation and diction of the specific publication are also very important. It should also be noted that the legal area of permissible reporting does not necessarily have to coincide with the ‘media ethics’ area.


First published in Horizont on 05/06/2024.