Donaukurier Publisher supports Abolition of Freedom of Communication

Georg Sch?ff, the publisher of the Donaukurier newspaper, in a page-long interview of his own publication expresses his thoughts about Google Streetview. He argues that Google generally has problems with the constitutional system in Germany, but at the same time demands the abolishment of freedom of communication through actions undertaken by his paper.

Berlin - The weekend edition of April 3 and 4 2007 of the regional newspaper Donaukurier, led by its publisher Georg Sch?ff, featured a blackened cover page with the caption "We protest the limitation of basic rights and freedom of press," referring to the telecommunication surveillance (TK?), allegedly curtailing citizens' basic rights under the guise of fighting crime. This practice should not be allowed, according to the paper.

Now, however, the Donaukurier demands what it protested against in 2007: the abolishment of the freedom of communication. The paper argues that Google Streetview enables burglars to select promising objects and should therefore be banned.

The Donaukurier has been publishing articles opposing Google Streetview since November 2009. The paper presented expert opinions stating that Google Streetview is illegal. All this is opposed to the reality of a Federal Constitutional Court act dating back to 1999, stating that a building database with images of buildings does not violate personal rights or the privacy of citizens. Many more verdicts followed between 1999 and 2010, all arriving at the same conclusion that images of buildings do not violate personal rights or the privacy of citizens. The latest move came from the district court of Cologne in January 2010, which after thoroughly balancing all interests involved, ruled that neither personal rights nor the privacy of citizens are compromised by images of buildings.

Notwithstanding these rulings the Donaukurier attacked Google and invited its readers to sign and send in letters of protest against publishing photos of their houses in Google Streetview. The publisher dedicated a portion of the paper's website to this campaign and provided a large amount of ad space on its homepage.

The paper demanded Google take receipt of the collected protest letters personally. Google spokesman Kay Oberbeck rejected this demand, saying the reporting done by Donaukurier is unfair. Indeed, through months of reporting on the issue not a single proponent of Streetview was heard. Oberbeck offered to accept the protest letters by mail or e-mail.

Instead of forwarding protest letters to Google, the Donaukurier then contacted consumer rights minister Ilse Aigner, asking her to be their messenger and transfer the letters to Google. Despite having taken position against Google Streetview herself in the past, she declined supporting this campaign.

The latest move on the part of the Donaukurier comes in the form of a full page interview with its own publisher Georg Sch?ff, again taunting Google Streetview. Immediately next to the interview with the publisher another article against Google Streetview was placed and directly below that yet another statement against Google Streetview by the same editor who interviewed Sch?ff a few inches above on the same page, lacking any criticism of Sch?ff's opinion. The page also features a color picture of "Ulrike R?der of Lehar Street" proudly showing her piece of art into the camera: a praying comic book character with a speech bubble saying "Dear God, please keep the Google people away from us! Amen."

In the interview Sch?ff alleges that Google Streetview seems to generally have a problem acknowledging the constitutional rights system in Germany. He goes on to say that he would like to explain to Kay Oberbeck the function of free press in a free country, and offers him free lectures on the subject, since he seems to need them.

Let us summarize: the publisher of a newspaper prevents balanced reporting on Google Streetview by exclusively mentioning opponents of Streetview. He presents expert opinion coming to a different conclusion than the highest court in the country, which ruled that image databases of buildings are legal. He instigates citizens to write letters of protest, which even the consumer rights minister declines to hand over to Google. He forces reports calling for the abolishment of the basic right of freedom of communication, based on the premise that Google images could be used to perpetrate crimes, and he gives himself an entire page in his own newspaper for an interview against Google Streetview. Then he has his own interviewer write an op-ed piece against Google Streetview and accuses the Google press officer of requiring lessons on the subject of freedom of speech.

It is a comforting thought, however, that this particular interpretation of freedom of speech would send shivers down the spine of most German people.

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