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Germany justice minister calls for greater journalist protections

[JURIST] German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [official profile] on Sunday announced plans to enact a law to increase protections for journalists using information obtained from government sources. Under section 353b of the German Penal Code [text], public officials who release state information can be punished by up to five years in prison. While the current law does not specifically target members of the press, prosecutors have used the law to search and confiscate [DW report] information from journalists even if they are not suspected of wrong-doing. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger indicated that the proposed law would allow journalists to act as an important check on the government without fear of interference. The law appears to have broad support within the government and negotiations on the law are expected to begin next month.

Germany joins Iceland and the US on the list of countries that have recently proposed legislation meant to increase freedom of the press. In February, the Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] began considering measures [JURIST report] aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. Last December, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] that would protect journalists' abilities to shield sources in federal court proceedings. Reporter's Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website] ranked Iceland number one in press freedom in 2009 [2009 rankings], while ranking Germany eighteenth and the US twentieth.

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