German journalist cleared in sex video trial

A journalist who paid for a sex video showing a top German actor in bed with two prostitutes has been acquitted of coercion charges that could have seen him jailed.

iMedia Ethics reports Wolf-Ulrich Schuler, who worked for the Hamburg-based tabloid Bild, was offered the video in 2009 and agreed to pay €3,500 for a copy.

The video, which showed actor Ottfried Fischer, 59, having sex with two women in a brothel in Hamburg’s red light district was filmed without his knowledge. An unnamed source offered the video to Schuler.

Fischer is one of Germany’s top actors and has been a popular subject with the country’s tabloid media because of his colourful love life, and until the sex tapes surfaced he did not seem to be shy about talking to newspapers.

His open relationship with the press appeared to change when Schuler was offered the video, resulting in a call between the reporter and Fischer’s press agent.

Schuler claimed that he had repeatedly stressed the video was “far too hot” for Bild to publish but the agent said Fischer should do an exclusive interview with the paper because it could mean the end of his career were it to get out.

Fischer met the reporter and gave the interview but a few weeks later decided that what had happened amounted to coercion and was invasive and damaging to his private life.

A formal complaint to the Munich police resulted in a criminal case against the journalist, who was charged with coercion and illegal possession and usage of picture/video information.

The original legal case against Schuler took place at Munich’s district court in October 2010 and ended with him being fined €14,400, but the publishers later won an appeal and the convictions were quashed in May 2011.

The actor then took his case to the court of appeal and at the third hearing in April 2012 the not guilty verdict was overturned because of procedural errors. The latest twist in the legal saga took place last month at an 11-hour hearing.

Media specialist Spyros Aroukatos, who acted for the journalist in the fourth hearing, argued that not only was it not coercion – but that it was “the obligation of the accused to agree to accept the video when it was offered”.

Similarly, an expert report by German Constitutional Court vice president Professor Winfried Hassemer handed to the court confirmed it was part of a journalist’s professional duty to confront somebody affected by “explosive material” with the fact that it existed.

The court agreed and ordered the journalist be found not guilty of coercion or illegal possession of the material, rejecting the prosecution argument that the existence of such a sex video in the hands of the journalist amounted to coercion.

The newspaper’s legal adviser Karina Hesse told iMediaEthics: “This case has been hanging over the journalist’s head for three long years. They wanted to see him jailed for simply doing his job. He had his house searched and they demanded details of his telephone bills and also took his telephone.

“As you know, with a smartphone you can even get somebody’s emails. They were also able to see his text messages.”

Hesse said: “It is an enormous relief that it has been thrown out and he has been cleared and we hope that this will now be the end of the matter although they can of course go on to make a further appeal.”

The actor’s lawyers are reportedly awaiting the written judgment before deciding whether to make a final appeal.

 

This is an excerpt from an iMediaEthics story, republished with permission.

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