Court: BILD newspaper was allowed to publish Wowereit photos

Germany’s highest court, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe, has ruled in favor of BILD, a German daily newspaper, in a case regarding the publication of pictures of Klaus Wowereit, the former mayor of Berlin. Taken during a private event the evening before a vote of no confidence, the images were part of “contemporary history “, the court stated, and therefore did not require Wowereit’s consent to publication. The court’s ruling overturns previous decisions by Berlin’s district and appeals courts. Raue LLP advised BILD on the case with Dr. Achim Krämer arguing before the BGH.

Wowereit filed suit against BILD for three photos the newspaper published showing him in a popular restaurant with friends. The former mayor was of the opinion that the photos were of a private nature. Their publication therefore was not justified by any legitimate interest. BILD’s publisher, Axel Springer Verlag, countered that the images were closely related to the upcoming vote of no confidence as that they revealed the mayor’s nonchalant attitude amid the controversy surrounding his involvement in the crisis of the Berlin airport opening.

The Berlin appeals court did not take the context of publication sufficiently into account, the BGH stated. Publishing images of the mayor in private could be justified in connection with a significant political moment. The photos revealed how Wowereit handled himself in public while facing the potential end of his political career. Seen in a well-known restaurant frequented by prominent figures he could not have expected to remain hidden from the view of the public and the press, especially not on the evening before the no-confidence vote.

This is the third time in two years that the BGH has overruled lower court rulings against BILD. In September 2014, the court sided with BILD in its story about alimony payments by Rainer Speer, a former minister of the State of Brandenburg. Later, the court again ruled in favor of BILD in its critical assessment of MP Karl Lauterbach of the SPD, who was in an alimony dispute with his four children. Following the court’s approval of BILD’s review, Lauterbach withdrew his lawsuit, probably to avoid a high court ruling against him.

(27 September 2016)