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DFB Prez Zwanziger vs Freedom of Speech

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Malte Zander

Nov 17, 2008, 8:44:07 AM11/17/08
The following is a summary of what is currently one of the more interesting
things going on in German football. Theo Zwanziger, president of the German
FA, has been designated a demagogue by a journalist/blogger in the comments
section of a blog. Even though Zwanziger has been told in two courts of law
(trying to get a preliminary injunction) that this designation is not
defamatory, he announced his intention to go forward with a lawsuit.

Instead of filing suit, however, the German FA sent out a press release on
Friday that is quite capable of damaging said journalists reputation and
thus endangering his livelihood.

This text also appears at my blog at . That
version includes links to the original (German-language) sources.

Read on, if you care.

I am not a demagogue

I just want you to think what I want you to think.

Too many football fans in the UK, Germany has attained a status of promised
land in the past few years. Standing area in the stadia, alcohol in the
stadia - and a FTA highlights show showing all goals and quite a bit more
from Bundesliga matches, a mere 75 minutes after the final whistle (at
least on Saturdays, it’s a bit more for Friday and Sunday matches). Add to
that that there are only three different kick-off times in the Bundesliga,
and you can see quite easily how fan-friendly Germany is in comparison.

But things are about to change. The current TV deal runs out at the end of
the season and for the new deal, this paradisaical state will change. But
as the German Football Association (DFB) tried to make a better deal for
pay TV channels by delaying the FTA highlights show, the German competition
regulators stated that they would not accept the deal. And now the
interesting part begins. In a panel discussion in the German city of
Gießen, FA president Theo Zwanziger was faced with an audience that was
opposed to the disentangling of the matchdays in relation to the new TV
deal. When the moderator repeatedly asked what the consequences of the
planned fragmentation of kick-off times in the Bundesliga and 2nd
Bundesliga starting with the 2009-10 season would be, particularly with
regard to the non-professional leagues, Mr Zwanziger called this line of
questioning “demagogic”.

Again, this is not really that interesting, if you gloss over the fact that
a representative of Germany’s largest sports association vilifies the
process of asking an audience for their opinion. It becomes interesting in
a jiffy, if you consider a press release that went out on 14 November 2008,
wherein the German FA “condemns the defamation of Dr. Theo Zwanziger”. This
defamation, according to the DFB, consists of German journalist and blogger
Jens Weinreich calling Mr Zwanziger an “incredible demagogue” in the
comments (#4) of a blog entry at German football blog Direkter Freistoß.
His reasoning was that Mr Zwanziger at a congress of the German Olympics
Sports Confederation (DOSB) claimed repeatedly that the cause of the
difficulties of German football, the German Football League and the German
FA was the Bosman ruling of 1995. Mr Zwanziger repeatedly demanded special
treatment for the sports world in the context of European law, both
regarding employment and financial law. Mr Zwanziger also stated that “if
you are not in command of the communication, you will always lose” -
meaning that the DFB needs to control the discourse over the changes made
to football these days.

While Mr Weinreich was in Beijing, working at the Olympic Games, he
received a fax from the DFB, claiming that referring to Mr Zwanziger as an
“incredible demagogue” was libel and slander and that Mr Zwanziger had
always “fought for the exact opposite” - against what German law calls
“Volksverhetzung” (closely related to the concept of Incitement to racial
or ethnic hatred). Indeed, here is the actual issue. As the term demagogue
has several meanings in Germany, one of which being closely related to the
Third Reich and its leadership, it must always be made clear from the
context what meaning is the one alluded to when using this term. Mr
Weinreich holds that he clearly did not intend for the term “demagogue” to
put Mr Zwanziger into any sort of commonality with the Third Reich
leadership. And two courts of law have since agreed that Mr Zwanziger is
not correct in his assumption that using the term demagogue exclusively
refers to those people who commit the crime of Volksverhetzung, but that it
has a more diverse meaning.

These rulings notwithstanding, Mr Zwanziger announced he would file suit at
the Landgericht Koblenz - unless Mr Weinreich explicitly stated that by
referring to Mr Zwanziger as an “incredible demagogue” he did not intend to
imply that Mr Zwanziger was a “Volksverhetzer”. Naturally, Mr Weinreich let
expire the deadline set for this declaration, and his lawyers sent a letter
expressing their perplexity at the insistence of Mr Zwanziger’s lawyers to
sue, their understanding of the term in question and thirdly their choice
of legal venue, indicating that they hoped this choice was not mandated by
Mr Zwanziger having been judge at this particular court and still having
contacts with the personnel there.

This last exchange took place on 12 November 2008. No suit was filed,
instead, the DFB sent out an email to more than 100 decision-makers in
politics and sports, attaching the aforementioned press release and
claiming that “we can no longer accept that persons of the public life are
defamed without reason on more or less anonymous internet blogs”. The mail
continues stating that “we are convinced that we have to promote this basic
position offensively”. The mail closes with the expression of hope that
this press release would be used in arguing and reporting the case.

Mr Weinreich has identified 18 lies (he refers to them as “Lügenkomplexe”,
literally lie complexes) in this press release. The most important omission
in this press release is the fact that two courts have disagreed with the
DFB. The press release also refers to “more or less anonymous” internet
blogs, despite fact that neither the initial comment, nor the blog where
the comment appeared are anywhere near anonymous. To claim that Mr
Weinreich’s eponymous blog is anonymous is equally absurd. To call a
statement in the comments section of one blog and documenting what resulted
from it (i.e. documenting the exchanges between the lawyers etc.) a
“campaign” is also rather far-fetched.
One of the more interesting assertions in the press release is the
statement that Mr Weinreich has retracted the defamation within the time
limit set to him by Mr Zwanziger’s lawyers. Mr Weinreich writes in his blog
that the statement has not been retracted, will not be retracted and that
it needs not be retracted as per the decision of two courts of law. The DFB
uses the press release to also criticize the reporting of the Gießener
Anzeiger, deploring an attempt to discredit Mr Zwanziger - despite the fact
that a number of witnesses can confirm that Mr Zwanziger used the
terminology as described in the article. The other points that Mr Weinreich
lists are equally untrue, but less blatant. He concludes his entry with the
following statement.
“The truth is: I have characterized the president of the DFB as a
demagogue, I have justified this, but I have not defamed him.
The truth is: Two courts agree.”

In his blog, Jens Weinreich has collected links to blog entries, newspaper
and radio commentary regarding this conflict.

Regarding the conduct of Mr Zwanziger and the DFB, the question that has to
be asked is: What do you call knowingly putting out a press release that
contains no less than 18 untrue statements and is designed to harm the
reputation and earnings of another person?
I think I know what the answer is.


Nov 17, 2008, 9:27:03 AM11/17/08
> Subject : DFB Prez Zwanziger vs Freedom of Speech
> From :

This is all a bit childish isn't it? They're losing sight of the issue
which is the effects of the new TV deal. Premiere have lost a fortune
due to piracy although that's been resolved with the switch to Nagra 3
my guess is it's too late. Are they in a position to bid again or will
another network get the rights?
Rss feed :

Malte Zander

Nov 17, 2008, 10:12:11 AM11/17/08
On Mon, 17 Nov 2008 14:27:03 +0000, Benny wrote:

> This is all a bit childish isn't it? They're losing sight of the issue
> which is the effects of the new TV deal. Premiere have lost a fortune
> due to piracy although that's been resolved with the switch to Nagra 3
> my guess is it's too late. Are they in a position to bid again or will
> another network get the rights?

Sure it's childish. But the journalist in question has been a tad critical
Regarding the issue. Premiere has switched to NDS, I believe, not Nagra 3.
At least they run NDS parallel. But I doubt Premiere's losses have much to
do with piracy. It's more inflated subscription numbers, hnce inflated
expectations, hence bigger-than-anticipated losses. Germany is not able to
support a pay tv channel with the current schedules, I believe. But
apparently the German Football League has attracted another interested
party beside Premiere: ESPN. This is important because there is no way in
hell that Premiere would pay 409 mn euros if they are the only bidder...

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