Tag Archives: germany

German intelligence reforms: will some journalists be more equal than others?

In a guest post for OJB, Christian Mihr explains how German plans to allow surveillance of foreign journalists represent a threat to reporters all over the world.

There is perhaps no author more quoted when it comes to surveillance than George Orwell, and his book 1984. The recently proposed reforms to Germany‘s Foreign Intelligence Service, BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), however, bear more resemblance to Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.

In the novel, farm animals drive their human masters away in hope of achieving democracy. But once the pigs of the farm seize power they become as tyrannical as the humans that came before them, proclaiming:

“All animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others.”

Some journalists are more equal than others

Politicians are of course not pigs; however, this single principle of the pigs in Animal Farm seems to be the underlying assumption which led the German-ruling parties SPD and CDU/CSU (Social Democrats and the conservative Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists) to draft the new BND law, proposed at the end of June to the German public.

In the law, those more equal than others are not pigs, but rather German journalists. Continue reading

How one journalist found hidden code in a Google report and turned it into a story

right to be forgotten analysis

The story found that most requests were made by private individuals, not politicians or criminals. Image: The Guardian

Sylvia Tippmann wasn’t looking for a story. In fact, she was working on a way that Google could improve the way that it handled ‘right to be forgotten‘ processes, when she stumbled across some information that she suspected the search giant hadn’t intended to make public.

Two weeks ago The Guardian in the UK and Correct!v in Germany published the story of the leaked data, which was then widely picked up by the business and technology press: Google had accidentally revealed details on hundreds of thousands of ‘right to be forgotten’ requests, providing a rare insight into the controversial law and raising concerns over the corporation’s role in judging requests.

But it was the way that Tippmann stumbled across the story that fascinated me: a combination of tech savvy, a desire to speed up work processes, and a strong nose for news that often characterise data journalists’ reporting. So I wanted to tell it here. Continue reading

Web video awards – OMG FYI

German web video awards logo

This year marks the third German Web Video Awards – the first awards of its kind in Europe.

The awards cover Austria and Switzerland as well as Germany, and are organised by the European Web Video Academy, a group of German journalists and web enthusiasts based in Düsseldorf, directed by Markus Hündgen and Dimitrios Argirakos and supported by Julius Endert and Daniel Pahl (disclaimer: I’m working there at the moment).

Their aim: help web video grow stronger, consult (media) companies and promote a new generation of young, talented web video producers.  Continue reading

German social TV project “Rundshow”: merging internet and television

In a guest post for OJB, cross-posted from her blog, Franzi Baehrle reviews a new German TV show which operates across broadcast, web and mobile.

There’s a big experiment going on in German television. And I have to admit that I was slightly surprised that the rather conservative “Bayerischer Rundfunk” (BR, a public service broadcaster in Bavaria), would be the one to start it.

Blogger and journalist Richard Gutjahr was approached by BR to develop a format merging internet and TV. On Monday night the “Rundshow” was aired for the first time at 11pm German time, and will be running Mondays-Thursdays for the next four weeks. Continue reading

Hacking German foreign aid (guest post)

German foreign aid map, from http://www.maptivism.net/oda-ger/index.html

German foreign aid map, from http://www.maptivism.net/oda-ger/index.html

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog, Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti explains how participants at an open data event helped crack open data on German aid spending. This post was originally published in German at Hyperland.

How does the foreign aid of Germany support other countries? The Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) releases no details, although about 6 billion euros is made available for aid every year. Now the Open Knowledge Foundation in Germany has broken down the data – with the unintended help of the OECD.

Until now it was a mystery to the German public which countries benefit, and to what extent, from their government’s spending on foreign aid: the BMZ publishes only a list of the countries that receive aid (PDF). It was also not known which particular sectors in these countries were being supported.

For the political scientist Christian Kreutz, member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the BMZ database for development aid was just disappointing:

“The relevant information is scattered, little data is available in open formats and a breakdown of financial data such as project expenses is not yet published.”

An institutional workaround

In the course of the Open Aid Data Conference in Berlin, participants decided to tackle the situation. They noted that there has long been a public database at international level which explains the expenditures at a larger scale: the BMZ regularly reports its data as part of “Official Development Assistance” (ODA) to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, better known as the OECD.

Now the data is also available on the website Aid Data.

For two days Christian Kreutz wrangled with the data sets, then he presented his first results on a new open-data map. More than half the ODA payments come from the BMZ, the rest come from other ministries. Kreutz concludes: “Hardly any country receives nothing.”

Surprising findings

Interestingly, not only classic developing countries are supported. The lion’s share goes to BRIC countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China which have profited from high economic growth for years.

Russia received around 12 billion euros in the years 1995 to 2009, China and India around 6 and 4 billion euros respectively.

Current sites of conflict receive quite a lot of money: Iraq received 7 billion euros, with the majority coming from debt cancellation. A similar situation is found in Nigeria and Cameroon.

In comparison Afghanistan and Pakistan receive only about 1.2 billion euros.

Even authoritarian regimes benefit from German development aid: Syria received around 1 billion euros. A large proportion of the money is spent on debt relief as well as water and education projects.

Interestingly, however, some European states received more money: Poland got 2.8 billion, mainly going into the education sector.

EU aspirants Serbia and Turkey received 2 billion euros each.

Payment information was also combined with data from the Economist on democratic development. Here a kind of rule of thumb can be recognised: countries which are less democratic are encouraged.

Egypt, for example, not only received support for water projects and its textile industry, but also for its border police – by an unspecified federal ministry.

BMZ is opening up

The new aid data map does not break down numbers by donors yet. But it could do so, as the detailed OECD data supports it.

Christian Kreutz has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the BMZ to get further data. But the ministry is already showing signs of movement: a spokesperson said that project funding data will be published soon on the ministry’s website.

The interesting question is how open and accessible the BMZ data will be. Recipients of ODA funds can not be inferred directly from the OECD database. Open data activists hope that the BMZ will not hide the data behind a restrictive search interface to prevent further analysis, à la Farmsubsidy.

Guest post: visualising mobile phone data – the data retention app


In a guest post Lorenz Matzat, editor of ZEIT Online’s Open Data Blog, writes about the background to their online app exploring the issues around data retention by mobile phone companies.

It’s not very often that one can follow the direct impact of an article, let alone a piece of data journalism. But the visualization of the cellphone data of Malte Spitz from the Green party in Germany led to visible repercussions in the US.

Following a piece in the New York Times about Spitz and the data app, some days ago two senators wrote a letter to the 4 main US-carriers for information about their data retention policy.

After publishing the app in German one month ago (and 20 days later the English version), the feedback was overhelming. We didn’t think that so many people would be so interested in it. But Twitter and Facebook in Germany went wild with it for some days – along with coverage in many major tech websites.

Probably this is why data journalism works: Making an abstract notion everybody knows about visible: that every position of you, and every connection of your mobile phone does is – or could be – logged. Every call, text message and data connection.

The background

Around February 1st, ZEIT Online asked me if I had an idea what do do with the dataset of Malte Spitz (read the background story about the legal action of Spitz to get the data here). Continue reading

Online journalism atlas: Germany (by Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer)

In the third part of the Online Journalism Atlas, Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer looks at how the news industry in Germany first went online, the German blogosphere, online journalism education, and – well, it’s a very comprehensive overview indeed. Got any information about your own country’s online journalism? Add it here.


Germany’s online journalism had a pretty good start in the mid-90s. News magazine DER SPIEGEL was among the first to use the proprietary online service Compuserve for pre-publishing its weekly title story and some extracts, as well as providing discussion space for their readers’ feedback. On Compuserve they hosted the first public chat with a politician, the then prime minister of the eastern German state of Saxonia, Kurt Biedenkopf (an event that made it to the front page of Wall Street Journal). Continue reading

All quiet on the western front? Not quite.

German regional publisher WAZ just launched its new flagship website, Der Westen. New features include geotagging, blogs and keyword filtering, monitored from a futuristic-looking newsroom. Martin Stabe has the details.

The concept, writes Der Spiegel, is to let users choose the centre of their world, their perspective on news. Der Westen then provides content around it.

The FAZ today has an interview of blogger-turned-editor-in-chief Katharina Borchert. Numerous online ventures have been playing on regional papers’ turf, from local advertisers flocking to AdSense to local radios breaking news more rapidly, she says. To compete, paper brands must regain their offline roles as community leaders by enhancing the news hole with social features, Facebook-style. Continue reading