Menschenwürde: Steinfigur eines dünnen Menschen, hockend, die Ellenbogen auf die Knie gestützt, mit den Händen den Kopf haltend.

Human Dignity

Human dignity is paramount: It is at the very top of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and in our constitution. No person may be treated as an object, have their rights violated, be subjected to inhuman or humiliating punishment or treatment, or be tortured or killed.

Commitment to human dignity forms the basis of public discourse, the space for moral and legal communication. Humans owe it to themselves and to others to stand up in solidarity for their fundamental rights. This distinguishes human dignity very fundamentally from a mere taboo, which is impervious to any rational consideration.

Protection of human dignity as a task of the KJM

Besides the protection of minors, particularly the protection of human dignity is a key topic in the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV) – and therefore one of KJM's key tasks. Any media offering that violates human dignity is inadmissible pursuant to the JMStV. This is the case, in particular, if people are presented who are or have been experiencing physical or emotional suffering or are dying, where this factual happening is reported without there being a justified interest in this form of presentation or reporting.

In specific cases, the KJM checks whether people's dignity has been respected in broadcasting and telemedia offerings. Items in poor taste, polemic outbursts or verbal lapses in an offering do not immediately constitute violations of human dignity. For something to be assessed as a potential violation of human dignity, there needs to be a certain degree of intensity involved. This is reached if the quality of a person as a human being has been disregarded fundamentally and on principle, and the person has therefore been degraded to the level of an object.

Beneficiaries of protection

When examining a human dignity violation, the KJM takes the respective beneficiary of protection into account:

  • protection of a participant or person presented in a media offering (participant protection),
  • protection of the listener/viewer or user (recipient protection) and
  • human dignity protection as a part of the particular value system as determined significantly by the basic human rights (human dignity as a part of the constitutional value system).

In the case of participant protection, for instance involving a participant in a talk show or so-called "extreme" show, the aspect of consent needs to be taken into account. Consent can be viewed as an expression of a person's individuality and therefore their personal human dignity. Consequently, the KJM will check in each individual case whether the consenting person knew that their human dignity may be at risk and whether they were coerced into remaining in such situations. In the case of viewer protection and protection of human dignity as part of the constitutional value system, however, consent has no bearing on the matter. You are dealing with a case of a violation of human dignity as part of the constitutional value system if an offering has an impact on people's behaviour and if it conveys a view of human beings that conflicts with Art.1 para. 1 GG (German Basic Law).

Careful consideration and reasoning

Due to its absolute nature, the human dignity guarantee always requires careful consideration and reasoning. In the past, the KJM has detected breaches of the provisions for the protection of human dignity in several cases. For example, the KJM deemed images of a vulnerable old man, which were shown several times in a TV programme, as inadmissible under the aspect of human dignity. The TV broadcaster stated that the repeated scenes of mistreatment and humiliation were shown to call attention to the deplorable situation at the care home in question. These lengthy clips that were broadcast several times degraded the old man into an object to satisfy the viewers' voyeuristic interests. There was no justified public interest in such an intensive presentation of the person's mistreatment. The TV broadcaster's interest in their reporting or the viewers' interest in obtaining information cannot automatically claim to be more important than the affected individual's human dignity, particularly as the situation at the care home could have been illustrated in other ways.