Head of the Press Office
Phone: +49 (0) 52 41 80 24 66
Subject: Media & Services
Press freedom is one of the seven most important subjects of Corporate Responsibility (CR) at Bertelsmann. This is the result of a Group-wide analysis of CR subject areas in which more than 130 specialists and executives as well as employee representatives from Bertelsmann divisions and companies worldwide participated in 2014 – initiated by the Corporate Responsibility & Diversity Management unit at the Corporate Center of Bertelsmann. Since 2015, corporate representatives of various divisions have regularly met in a newly established working group to discuss issues relating to press freedom and its importance for Bertelsmann. Recently, the German members of the working group met in Cologne. Current issues regarding the editorial and journalistic independence of Bertelsmann were the focus of the exchange. As guests, RTL Television Chief Anchorman Peter Kloeppel and Uwe Vetterick, Editor-in-Chief of "Sächsische Zeitung", in which Gruner + Jahr holds a majority stake, participated in the meeting.
In the Bertelsmann Code of Conduct and many other internal divisional and corporate policies, the editorial and journalistic independence at Bertelsmann is firmly anchored as the foundation of all activities in the publishing and radio broadcast business and in news reporting generally. The question, however, is how the editorial teams and content-makers implement it in day-to-day practice.
The members of the working group first summed up the state of affairs in their fields of activity at the beginning of the meeting: Kirsten von Hutten for Gruner + Jahr, Claudia Limmer for Verlagsgruppe Random House, Gernot Wolf for Arvato, Katrin Gaertner for Bertelsmann, and Oliver Fahlbusch for RTL Group. Whether the editorial independence of advertising clients, the editor-in-chief policy as the stipulation for independent reporting, also with regard to the owners of the medium, or the guarantee of free speech even in the spotlight of harsh public criticism: the members of the working group agreed that their media businesses can be run in a reasonable way only due to compliance with these principles. They were appropriately thankful for the possibility to have an overarching exchange about this subject.
Katharina Kerl, Speaker of the Bertelsmann CR team and coordinator of the working group, seized the opportunity to present to the employees from the divisions how the new Corporate Responsibility Report planned for this fall will deal with press freedom at Bertelsmann. After all, this is also of enormous importance for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): this initiative has prepared comprehensive policies for the sustainability reporting of international companies and organizations, which Bertelsmann complies with. Oliver Fahlbusch presented the current CR report of RTL Group, in which press freedom is the first and most important subject.
Peter Kloeppel and Uwe Vetterick, two experienced journalists from famous media outlets, were guests at the meeting. Vetterick, who spoke at the Bertelsmann Management Meeting in June in Gütersloh, explained how "Sächsische Zeitung" reacted to protests of the "Pegida" movement against refugees and repeatedly against the newspaper – catchword "Lügenpresse" (lying press). "We developed different approaches that were to unmask the leaders of Pegida, present the followers in a differentiated way and support the open-minded citizens of Dresden," said Uwe Vetterick. In this context, he pointed out that the threatened and feared subscription cancellations of "Pegida" followers were kept within limits in terms of numbers – proof that journalistic steadfastness pays off. For this procedure, by the way, he had the explicit support of his own management and from Gruner + Jahr in Hamburg, as well as from Bertelsmann in Gütersloh.
Peter Kloeppel confirmed the reproaches of "Pegida" followers that the media report in a too one-sided way as Vetterick had described them. "Our colleagues also have to deal with such statements, sometimes even hostility, every day," said the RTL Television Chief Anchorman. He therefore considers it the most important task of journalists to prove their independence with professionalism each day anew. "Only if we sharpen our journalistic tools, which are the careful selection of pictures and quotes, the factual correctness, the right balance and emotional restraint, can we ensure credibility and our sustained acceptance among the viewership," he explained. "We have to give our viewers facts that enable them to form their own opinions. Only then are we doing a good job."
Following the suggestion of Oliver Fahlbusch, the "Press Freedom" working group plans to meet at regular intervals to discuss current issues of journalistic independence. Journalists and authors of Bertelsmann will again be invited to present and examine precise examples from everyday practice.