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MDR may delete comments without broadcast reference on its Facebook page

Public broadcasters are entitled to delete non-broadcast-related comments made by users in forums on their corporate social media pages. This was decided today by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.

Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) publishes posts on selected programs on its Facebook page, which users can comment on. For the creation of comments, MDR refers to guidelines in the form of a so-called netiquette, which requires, among other things, a reference to the topic of the respective broadcast. MDR deleted 14 comments posted by the plaintiff on MDR’s Facebook page.

The Administrative Court granted the action seeking a declaration that the deletion was unlawful with regard to one commentary and dismissed it in all other respects. The Higher Administrative Court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal against the dismissal of the action. The plaintiff’s appeal was successful before the Federal Administrative Court with regard to another commentary.

On the basis of the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty still in effect at the time of the deletion, the admissibility of MDR’s telemedia offering was determined in accordance with Section 11d RStV. Accordingly, broadcast-related and stand-alone telemedia offerings were subject to different strict requirements. Forums and chats without a broadcast reference were inadmissible. With these regulations, some of which have been incorporated into the State Media Treaty now in force, the state legislatures have implemented the so-called state aid compromise between the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Commission. In April 2007, the Commission terminated state aid proceedings initiated at the instigation of private media providers after the Federal Republic of Germany undertook to define the legal mandate of the contribution-financed public broadcaster for Internet sites in greater detail in order to protect private media and the press.

It is true that the deletion of the plaintiff’s comments constitutes an interference with the plaintiff’s right to privacy as guaranteed by Art. 5 Para. 1 sentence 1 of the German Basic Law. However, this intervention is justified. For among the general laws within the meaning of Art. 5 para. 2 GG include, among other things, the provisions of Section 11d RStV concerning the telemedia services of public broadcasters. The restriction of these broadcasters’ offerings to broadcast-related telemedia, as well as the prohibition of forums and chats that are not broadcast-related or accompanied by editorial content, also extends to users’ comments. The provisions that uphold the constitutional principle of proportionality also give MDR the right to delete posts that do not relate to the broadcast. No prior hearing or subsequent notification is required in this regard.

The plaintiff’s comments still in dispute were predominantly **unrelated to the topics of the respective MDR broadcasts. In particular, the criticism of MDR’s deletion practice repeatedly expressed by the plaintiff in the forum lacked the necessary broadcast reference. However, the lower courts applied this requirement too narrowly with regard to a commentary in which the plaintiff, in response to an article entitled “Nationwide crackdown on neo-Nazis,” also focused on Islamist terrorism.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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