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German Federal Court Of Justice rules: Images of undercover investigations may be published

11/04/2018 Updated: 14/11/2018

Even when images are obtained secretly and show shocking, but legal conditions, they may be published – this very important verdict was passed by the German Federal Court Of Justice in Karlsruhe today. The company Fürstenhof GmbH had filed a complaint against the publication of such an investigation after the German TV station MDR aired images from an organic egg farm in 2012 – images that revealed the truth behind the supposed “organic idyll”.


Despite the fact that the company is certified as “organic”, the pictures were devastating: hens with purulent inflammations and emaciated bodies – clearly visible because the birds barely carried any feathers on their bodies. In between them were dead animals. The German TV station MDR published images, obtained by the German organisation Animal Rights Watch (ARIWA) from an organic egg farm which is part of the farmers group Fürstenhof GmbH, in 2012. The ensuing litigation was finalised today by the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe: a verdict speaking in favour of press freedom and investigative journalism, but also of consumers’ right to know the truth behind the livestock industry and animal welfare.

Following the distribution of the investigation, Fürstenhof tried to inhibit any further release of the recordings. It sued the MDR for omission. Up to the Higher Regional Court in Hamburg, courts ruled in favour of the company. The recordings had been made secretly and showed conditions that were legal for the most part. They were largely in line with EU eco-legislation – despite the obvious suffering of the animals.

“Organic” also means animal suffering

During the appeal hearing at the Federal Court of Justice last March, it became apparent that the secretly taken recordings of livestock farms could be justified, according to the assessment of the Karlsruhe judges. After all, these conditions that have been uncovered and continue to be uncovered by the investigations of animal rights organisations such as ARIWA may be legal, but they by no means correspond with the images of the happy animals the industry is promising the consumer through advertising.

Animal welfare is of public interest

Today’s judgment of the Federal Court Of Justice was clear: The pictures from the farm may be distributed, as the publication corresponds to the legitimate “interest of the public in general” and the “right to freedom of speech and media“. Furthermore, the Federal Court Of Justice announced that the recordings of the investigation “inform the viewer correctly“: “The TV station’s coverage is critically discussing the mass production of organic animal products, considering the aspects of consumer information as well as animal welfare and shows the discrepancy between the image many consumers believe in, given by producers or producer groups such as the applicant [Fürstenhof GmbH], of highly ethical production standards on the one hand and the actual production circumstances on the other.

Recently, in February 2018, a judgment of the Higher Regional Court in Naumburg confirmed the legality of an undercover investigation conducted by an animal rights organisation, because only after such investigations could extreme cases of animal cruelty reach the public.

Today is a good day for the freedom of the press“, said ZDF’s legal expert Joachim Pohl. It is also a good day for the public discussion of factory farming based on unadorned insights and facts. And it is a good day for animal welfare, because the public can only find out about what happens behind the walls of the livestock industry through the publication of these shocking investigative reports. In 2015, Animal Equality also published an undercover investigation, which showed the suffering of animals in the supposedly idyllic, “animal friendly” production of organic eggs.

Do you believe that undercover investigations of the livestock industry are right and necessary? Please support the work of our investigations team today. Each donation helps us to continue to uncover animal abuse.

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