Turkish Law Blog

A Legal View of The Use of Perpetrator and Victim Photos and Identity Information in the Media

Deniz Saltık Deniz Saltık/ Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
30 December, 2020

The photographs of the survivors who were injured from the wreckage in the Izmir earthquake that took place on the 30th of October 2020, kept the press busy for a long time. This issue is not limited to only this earthquake. The identities and photographs of the victims / perpetrators of these and similar incidents, whether they died as a result of various natural disasters and accidents, or those who were murdered, do not come down from the headlines for days. So how true is this legally?

It is debatable whether the news should go beyond reporting and transmission of information. Clicks and sales figures can be balanced with honesty and care. This is called media ethics. On the other hand, the legal dimension of the news plays a role.

Personal rights are one of the fundamental rights protected by the constitution. The protection of this right in many cases overlaps with the public right to information. So, how should the media draw this limit, what should the media be allowed to send and print legally?

Normally, media are not allowed to print the name of the perpetrator until the criminal proceedings are finalized. Even if the probability is low compared to the current state of knowledge, there is still the possibility that the perpetrator is innocent or grossly negligent. However, in some cases and disasters, the courts have decided that the personal rights of the suspects cannot always be protected. If the level of suspicion is high enough, the name can be mentioned.

In a plane crash disaster that occurred in Germany, it was stated that in a similar situation, it would be allowed to name a suspect and also to illustrate it with photographs, because the public interest was overwhelming. Because it is not possible to think of a situation where the public interest is more dominant than this. On the other hand, even if the alleged perpetrator has an important public interest, the personal rights of his relatives should be protected.

According to article 8 of the German Press Act, it is allowed to mention the names of the perpetrators, when the action is taking place in public places and in extremely serious and special criminal offenses. According to the law of the press, it is the duty of the press to report criminal offenses. However, the editorial offices are not allowed to make themselves a means of advertising by the perpetrator. According to section 11 of the press law, this is done primarily by the improperly detailed or sensational presentation of acts of violence. In a factual context, mentioning names alone does not fall within the scope of this sensational reporting for extraordinary crimes such as terrorism and anger.

Regarding whether the grieving relatives of the victims can be shown or not, it is indicated that the relatives of the victims have the right to privacy in accordance with Article 11.3 of the German Press Law. Reporting about accidents and disasters must find respect for the suffering of the victims and their feelings for their loved ones. Those who are victims of the accident should not be victimized for the second time by repeatedly appearing in the media.

Those who violate the personal rights of third parties, whether it is the media or private individuals, may be brought to action for injunction and compensation.

Regarding the question of whether or not old photos of victims could be published, the received judgments provided for the protection of the victims in such cases, which basically prohibited the press from showing victims of such events.

It is also possible to make a brief assessment in terms of protecting the right of name and personal rights.

A phenomenon that I have observed in Germany for many years is that the personal information and photographs of the victim and the perpetrator are not included when an incident is being told in the news, newspapers or television, and especially that their name is not reflected in the press.

At Tagesschau, one of the oldest news channels in Germany, the fact that the perpetrator of the racist attack in Hanau is not shown and his name is not disclosed (despite a request to the contrary by the perpetrator's lawyer) is seen as a sign that this person wants to use the court to set the stage for his anti-Semitic and extremist ideas.

This also applies to the videos that the defendant Tobias R. distributed before the Hanau massacre. The aim is to prevent ideological cases or perpetrators from taking the stage to advertise their ideology and take on the role of heroes. The same situation manifested itself in New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's wish to never pronounce the name of the Christchurch assassin. When it comes to politically motivated massacres that can be imitated, not contributing to a criminal who wants to be famous is the purpose behind this behaviour.

In addition to this, the permanent publication of the name of a condemned criminal in an electronic press archive which is accessible to everyone is a violation of personal. For this reason, journalists are weighing the balances in each case, as required by their work.

Furthermore, the permanent publication of the name of a convict officer in an electronic press archive, which is accessible to everyone is a violation of personal rights and is not allowed. The same applies even if the person has been sentenced to lifetime imprisonment.

From a sociological point of view, we have to investigate the murderers in order to recognize the evil, to process it, to investigate and examine the reasons behind it and to counter the underlying motives and take preventive measures. Otherwise, we would close our eyes and imagine that everything would be alright and the world would turn into a better place.

Let's end our subject by quoting the introduction paragraph of a blog post written by a high school student who lost 18 friends from his own school as a result of an unfortunate accident.

“Dear sensational journalist, have you ever lost many of your friends, acquaintances or even relatives in one fell swoop? No? You can tell that in the reporting of some of the media. And I would advise precisely those representatives of the press to think about how they felt when last time someone died in their family. What would you do if your great sadness was filmed by a large contingent of cameras?”


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