Human Dignity

Human dignity takes priority: It ranks first both the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations and in the German Constitution. No human being may be treated like an object, be stripped of his or her rights, be exposed to inhumane and humiliating sanctions or treatments, be tortured or destroyed. The commitment to human dignity forms the basis for public debate, the room for moral and legal communication. Human beings owe it to themselves and to each other to engage in solidarity for their fundamental rights. In this sense, human dignity differs fundamentally from mere taboos which escape any rational deliberation.

Alongside the protection of children and adolescents, the protection of human dignity constitutes a key objective of the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Human Dignity and the Protection of Minors in Broadcasting and in Telemedia (JMStV) - and thus conveys key tasks to the KJM. Media content is illegal under the JMStV if it violates human dignity. This will apply in particular to presentations of human beings who are exposed to physical or mental suffering or who are dying, even if an actual event is shown which does not provide any justifiable interest in the presentation or report chosen.

The KJM analyses each individual case to establish whether the dignity of human beings was respected in broadcasting or telemedia content. Content including matters or issues of bad taste, polemic language or verbal misdemeanour does not in itself already violate human dignity. Rather, the assessment whether the legal provisions regarding human dignity have been violated must establish a certain intensity of the breach. This will be the case if someone has been principally and fundamentally ignored as a human being and has thus been degraded into a mere object.

When analysing potential breaches of human dignity, the KJM pays attention to the respective subjects of protection: 

  • the protection of participants or the presentation of a content in the media (protection of participants),
  • the protection of listeners or viewers or users (protection of recipients), and
  • the protection of human dignity as part of the respective order of values which is characterised by the fundamental rights in a major manner (human dignity as part of the order of values embedded in the Constitution).

Concerning the protection of participants, e.g., participants of talk shows or so-called "extreme shows”, the aspect of agreement has to be taken into consideration. Agreement can be equated to a participant expressing his or her own individuality and thus his or her human dignity. The KJM checks carefully whether in giving his or her agreement the participant was aware of the potential risk to his or her human dignity or whether he or she was forced to live through situations which are characteristic of such shows.

Concerning the protection of the audience and the protection of human dignity as part of the order of values embedded in the German Constitution, it is irrelevant whether an agreement was given. Human dignity as part of the order of values under the constitution will be violated if a content impacts on the formation of behaviour and presents an image of human beings which contradicts Article 1 (1) of the German Constitution.

Due to its demands as an absolute value, the guarantee of human dignity requires careful assessment and explanation. In the past, the KJM established breaches of the protection of human dignity in several cases. For instance, pictures of an elderly man requiring care who was shown in a TV magazine several times, were classified as illegal by the KJM from the viewpoint of the protection of human dignity. The TV provider argued that the scenes of mistreatment and humiliation which were repeatedly shown at length were intended to draw attention to the deficits in the care institution concerned. The KJM however held that the lengthy scenes showing the elderly man several times reduced him to an object for the voyeuristic satisfaction of the viewer and denied that there was any justifiable public interest in such an intensive depiction of mistreatment. The interest of the TV provider in reporting an issue and the interest of audiences in being informed cannot be given precedence over the human dignity of the person concerned without reflection, all the more so since the situation in the care home could also have been described using other means.

Literature (in German)