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German President Refuses To Sign Censorship Law 272

Posted by kdawson
from the german-for-hot-potato dept.
thetinytoon writes "German federal president Horst Köhler has refused to sign a law to block child pornography that passed Parliament earlier this year, stating that he 'needs more information.' In Germany, the federal president has the right to reject a law only if its passage violated the order mandated by the constitution, or if it is obviously unconstitutional — he can't veto a law simply because he disagrees with it. The law was passed under a coalition government, but a different coalition took power before the law reached the president's desk. Political observers guess that the political parties would like to get rid of the law without losing face, but since it has already passed the Parliament, they can't simply abandon it."
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German President Refuses To Sign Censorship Law

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  • What the? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:58PM (#30263378)

    This may come off as a troll, but I'm legitimately curious:

    I'm from the US. I have an adequate understanding of various forms of government, including parliamentary forms, but Germany's constitution and government really just drive me crazy with lack of understanding. I think perhaps a big part of that is cultural and being raised in a country with different values. The idea that the president can't veto a law, and that the only checks against parliamentary power are the constitution itself kind of bugs me a little. The German system in general bugs me a little I suppose, because I place such high value in free speech and things Germany apparently values differently. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just saying I don't understand.

    What I'd honestly like to understand is what the cultural differences are, and if anyone knows -WHY- they exist. Why is it that the US seems to have such a high value on free speech at least theoretically whereas Europe in general (Germany in particular) does not?

    Maybe someone who has lived in the US and Germany and understands both governments could just write up a brief opinion, because I'm trying to understand without being a "US Imperialist" and saying OH WELL THEY'RE JUST WRONG AND NEED LIBERATIN' but I'd like to get an insider's view.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Atrox666 (957601) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:09PM (#30263456)

    Like the guy who blew the whistle on the sub-prime fiasco this guy will be my secret ace in the hole for my dead pool.
    The global elite only want control over everything you say or do while you slave away on subsistence wages to make them rich...is that so wrong?
    What would John Galt do?
    Freedom of speech and personal privacy are the tools of pedophiles don't ya know?
    Personally I even support people's right to deny the holocaust, say the sky is red..or any other dumb ass shit.
    Until you get all the opinions on the table you simply are not having an objective debate on any issue.

  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:09PM (#30263462) Homepage
    Free speech is valued in Germany but not as much as in the US. There are four reasons I'd suggest: One the US has the First Amendment which enshrined free speech pretty strongly. The fact that it was labeled first in the Bill of Rights probably had some suggestive effect. Although I've never seen any evidence that there was any intention to label the amendments by importance it still has a strong suggestive impact. Values might be different if the order was permuted. Second, the rise of the Nazi party and the post-war response to Nazism gives more of a feeling that some speech is genuinely dangerous and simply needs to be halted. The pre-Nazi Germany had very far ranging free speech and it is seen as this being part of the problem that lead to the Nazi reign. Third, there's much more value on privacy in many ways. The emphasis on privacy which frequently runs into free speech issues make free speech seem less important by comparison. Fourth, in general there's an attitude allowing more direct government intervention in many affairs which leads to again less of a problem with seeing speech being regulated. In the US, there's across the board some much heavier libertarian attitudes than in Germany or most of Europe. That libertarianism leads to more concern here about speech control. There are probably other reasons but those are simply off the top of my head.
  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fonos (847221) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:18PM (#30263508)
    There was a large group of people at the time (anti-federalists) that did not want a Federal Government that had too much power. Many states would not ratify the Constitution unless a Bill of Rights (First 10 Amendments) was added. It was a compromise. So to put it this way, if the Bill of Rights was never added to the Constitution, many states would not have ratified the Constitution and America really wouldn't be united as one country...Sounds pretty damn important to me.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:14PM (#30264140)

    Things like these highlight some of the benefits of the German legislative system. Schavan would've been the better choice for the office of president and she'd've probably said 'Have enough information and my verdict is: Forget it' but never the less I'm positively suprised about this.

    Köhler wouldn't have been my President but he has shown balls at other occasions and he has a very polite, neatly shrouded and delicate way of basically saying 'Go fuck yourself' to his party members without publicly hurting any feelings, as soon as day-to-day politics start screwing around again in Germany. He's like a gutter-grid keeping the biggest chunks of crap of the german supreme courts back. Which allready has a hard time keeping up with voiding all the BS Berlin has been coming up with lately.

    Having a chancelor (currently Angela Merkel) for every-day politics and a President as mostly symbolic head-of-state does have its benefits, as it gives the President tthe obligation to use his power to prevent long-term-effects of election-term-based decisions and lobby/decoy/special-interest laws. And keeps him out of the regular decision making which gives him and his actions the required authority and weight.

    My 2 cents.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dadragon (177695) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:32PM (#30264280) Homepage

    Don't worry too much about it. I was raised speaking French and English, and I don't spot sarcasm all that well in either language online.

    There's too much crazy on the internet to really be sure if somebody is being sarcastic or not.

  • by Tack (4642) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:38PM (#30264334) Homepage

    I know two Brits at work who have moved to our Canadian office, and have described the situation as night-and-day. One, while on his decision-making trip, took notice of the well-traveled path through a tree-dense field and was surprised to see actual children walking on it. Without adult escorts. He was further struck by the absence of tall, barbed fences blockading the school he was evaluating for his kids.

    He told me that if he were walking across the street back home and a child in front of him tripped and fell, his first instinct would probably be to keep walking and turn a blind eye (and indeed, he figured that most men in that situation would do exactly that). I was reminded of this recently when watching Torchwood - Children of the Earth, when an adult male character, seated with a female colleague at a picnic table at a playground, rushed to help a kid who hurt herself. The mother yelled at him to get away, calling him a pervert.

    Is this really representative of the situation over there? Or does the above paint an overly extreme picture?

  • by SimonInOz (579741) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:49PM (#30264422)

    What has changed?

    We are richer. We die less. We have less children. We value our children much more highly.
    There are (vastly) more cars on the streets. We fear our children will be hurt if they play there.
    We keep our children indoors.

    So they play with indoor toys. They get more shortsighted. They become inward looking and less social. So do we - the parents.

    We see our neighbours less. We know less of them. Perhaps we don't even notice if one of them has been enslaving children (yes, I am thinking of a recent case in the US).

    So the solution is obvious - ban cars in residential areas.

    Our children will once again be free to run the streets - even ride their bikes there. We will get to know our neightbours better. The children will look after each other. It'll be fine. (It was before - why not now?)
    Oh, and we will have to walk from our homes to the car park (or train station). We will be fitter. And thinner.

    It'll be a better place.

    What has this to do with paedophilia? Not much. But it has a lot to do with children.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:5, Interesting)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:52PM (#30264440)

    The German President is the "pet" of our Chancellor Merkel. And as the law was only required to let the social democrats look like fools (which worked perfectly) it can now be dropped. However, this would need normally another law. And this would mean a lot of discussion. And it would look bad for the present neo-liberal/neo-conservative government. So the best way was to call the President and tell him to stop the law. And now it can be dropped or held for some time and dropped later. As the actual government messed up a lot in the first month, I guess they want to reduce possible additional hazards. (they messed up in Afghanistan too the former minister for defense (what an euphemism) who was then the minister of labour resign just this weekend, because his misjudgments).
       

  • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:01PM (#30264490)
    Well, the Communists aren't around to scare people and unfortunately both the politicians and the tabloid editors are really interested in scared people. Scared people buy every tabloid writing bold headlines like "THIS IS THE (suspected) SICK BASTARD WHO RAPED LITTLE SUSAN (9)" and after enough "news stories" asking questions like "WHY CAN'T ANYONE MAKE THIS ONSLAUGHT OF BESTIAL PEDO-RAPISTS STOP?" and featuring "world reknowned paedophilia experts" being one step short of reciting the eponymous song from the musical Reefer Madness with "child porn" substituted for "reefer", most people who rely on tabloids for their opinions agree that one, two liberties are not a bad thing to lose if it puts a stop to those pedo devils trying to rape all children on the planet.

    Of course it won't change a thing. And the anti-paedophilia censorship they were sold on turns out to be anti-everything. But that won't matter as the BILD, the Sun or whatever's the name of their little opinion delivery rag will proudly proclaim the war on paedophilia over. Until the next high-profile paedophilia case when they get to spread the fear again.


    I feel compelled to close my post with a few lines from the song "Lasse red'n" form German punk band "Die Ärzte":
    Die meisten Leute haben ihre Bildung aus der BILD.
    Und die besteht nun mal, wer wüßte das nicht,
    Aus Angst, Hass, Titten und dem Wetterbericht.


    Most people have their education from the BILD.
    And that consists, who wouldn't know that,
    Of fear, hate, tits and the weather report.


    Truer words have never been spoken about a tabloid.
  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:21PM (#30264634) Homepage Journal

    Except the electors in the US system are not directly elected by the people, they are appointed by state officials.

    Depends on the state. In West Virginia, the people vote for the electors directly. In other states, the members of the electoral college are chosen from pools put forth by the political parties where you select which/how many from each party pool based on the parties of the candidates. Other states are a lottery from the voting population. Not all states appoint the electoral college.

  • by Brian Ribbon (986353) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:36PM (#30264720) Journal

    I agree with your concerns about children's liberty being restricted in the name of "protecting" them. I also agree with your belief that there are some serious issues which are often ignored by the majority; the hysteria over paedophilia allows significant risks to children to remain undetected or trivialised.

    "the effect of 0.00001% of the population having a predilection for children is frankly irrelevant compared to dangers such as traffic accidents, non-sexual abuse, violence and murder"

    Actually, the percentage of people who are attracted to children is much higher than that, even if the men who like sexually mature 15 year old girls are not included in the statistics. Despite the widespread occurrence of paedophilia within the general population, most paedophiles refrain from abusing children for several reasons:

    • Most paedophiles have a conscience.
    • Most paedophiles don't want to be arrested and ostracised by their community (although frankly, many of us feel marginalised even though we haven't offended).
    • Most paedophiles have suffered bad childhoods and don't wish to create problems for other children.

    I'm not just making assumptions based on the fact that I live responsibly with a paedophilic orientation. I know many other paedophiles who are also responsible people.

    I have posted this information previously, but it remains relevant:

    From Hall, et al [ipce.info] -

    "Consistent with previous data (Barbaree & Marshall, 1989; Briere & Runtz, 1989; Fedora et al., 1992; Freund & Watson, 1991), 20 % of the current subjects self-reported pedophilic interest and 26.25 % exhibited penile arousal to pedophilic stimuli that equaled or exceeded arousal to adult stimuli.

    [..]

    Eighty subjects completed the study. [..] Twenty-six subjects [approximately 33%] exhibited sexual arousal to the child slides that equaled or exceeded their arousal to the adult slides.

    [..] ....a sizable minority of men in normal populations who have not molested children may exhibit pedophilic fantasies and arousal. In recent studies, 12 to 32% of community college samples of men reported sexual attraction to children (B &R, 1989, H,G & C. 1990) or exhibited penile response to pedophilic stimuli (B&M, 1989, F et al, 1992, F&L, 1989, F & W, 1989). Thus, arousal to pedophilic stimuli does not necessarily correspond with pedophilic behavior (Hall, 1990; Schouten & Simon, 1992), although there are arguments to the contrary (Quinsey & Laws, 1990)."

    From the British Journal of Social Work [oxfordjournals.org] -

    "A self-administer questionnaire was given to a sample of 92 female and 91 male public sector child care workers. Results showed a significantly higher percentage of males (15 per cent) than females (4 per cent) expressed a sexual interest in children."

    From Is Pedophilia a Mental Disorder? [nfshost.com] -

    "In a sample of nearly 200 university males, 21% reported some sexual attraction to small children, 9% described sexual fantasies involving children, 5% admitted to having masturbated to sexual fantasies of children, and 7% indicated they might have sex with a child if not caught (Briere & Runtz, 1989). Briere and Runtz remarked that "given the probable social undesirability of such admissions, we may hypothesize that the actual rates were even higher" (p. 71). In another sample with 100 male and 180 female undergraduate students, 22% of males and 3% of females reported sexual attraction to a child (Smiljanich & Briere, 1996).

    Laboratory researchers have validated physiologically the self-report studies of nonclinical, nonpedophile identified volun

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:44PM (#30264766)

    The law states that the government manages a secret list which ISPs have to implement (without looking at it... don't ask me how this is supposed to work but hey, it's a law concerning the internet, thus not necessarily feasible) which does not block anything outright but rather displays a big STOP page, telling the user that he is about to look at a "forbidden" page and asking him whether he really wants to go there.

    Or, as a German comedian put it, it's not a "no trespassing" sign. It's a stop sign. And people will do what they do when encountering a stop sign. They will stop, look that nobody is coming, and keep driving.

    The law came under fire from freedom of speech proponents and anti-child abuse groups alike, the former for the obvious reasons, the latter for the similarly obvious reason that it doesn't change jack. All it does is that you don't see the crime anymore, it still happens and it still is a problem.

    It's akin to the various pics that sprung up soon after this idea passed, like this one [wordpress.com]. Here we see the solution applied to homelessness.

    And yes, it's much like a 3 year old closing his eyes and thinking "I can't see it so it ain't there".

  • Re:What the? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pjt33 (739471) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:48PM (#30264792)

    I rather suspect that the portmanteau Republicrat was intended to refer to both of your major parties.

  • Re:What the? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:54PM (#30264838)

    I guess you got enough answers concerning how the role of the German president (as a head of state and not member of the government) is completely different then what you might think.

    Let me just add concerning this statement:

    What I'd honestly like to understand is what the cultural differences are, and if anyone knows -WHY- they exist. Why is it that the US seems to have such a high value on free speech at least theoretically whereas Europe in general (Germany in particular) does not?

    I honestly do think that freedom of speech has a high value in Germany. The German constitution and the German society (in my opinion) values human dignity ("Human dignity is untouchable" is - for well known reasons - the first paragraph of the German constitution), freedom of speech and human rights.

    I assume part of your reason to believe that free speech is not valued in Germany is due to the well known restrictions eg when it comes to show Nazi symbols for the sake of Nazi propaganda. The point is: Germany has made the experience how a democratic society (the Weimar Republic) has been ripped apart by radical groups which were openly anti-democratic, and which took advantage of the economical and political turmoil of that time. The basic logic behind the German system established after WWII is: a free and democratic society has to be able to defend itself against those who strive to abolish that freedoms. This is why the German systems allows legal pressure against groups which openly are anti-democratic, anti-human rights (like right wing neo-Nazi movements). I'm completely aware that there is a "logical limbo" in defending values like freedom of speech and human rights against fascist groups by restricting freedom of speech for people close to these groups. It might be debatable, but it is definitely not a sign that these things are not "valued".

  • Re:Matter of framing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:01PM (#30264872)

    Just because I am against child pornography I can't be against censorship? Just because I'm against Fascism I can't be against Communism? Just because I'm against overreaching copy restriction I can't be against rampart copyright infringments?

    The world isn't black and white.

  • by Draek (916851) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:08PM (#30264936)

    Yes, paedophiles exist, and so does child porn, but the NUMBER of paedophiles hasn't increased, has it?

    It most likely has, along with the rest of the human race. The percentage, on the other hand, I'd bet that it has stayed pretty much constant for the past few centuries or so.

    But I agree with the spirit of your post, reminds me of that old quote, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Poor Roosevelt must be turning in his grave seeing so many people shitting their pants with any mention of pedophiles, terrorists, rapists and such that appears on modern media.

    Ohh, and happy birthday :)

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:11PM (#30264950)

    Especially in a parlament split up amongst this fun assembly:

    CDU/CSU: Conservative party, with its backing in conservative groups, conservative industries, farmers and so on.
    SPD: Social democrats, used to be left leaning but considered "realistic socialists", i.e. willing to make sacrifices (too many for many of their voters, I'll get to that).
    FDP: Free democrats, kinda like liberals, leaning towards industry interests.
    "Die Linke": Leftist party, from a join of the former Communists and left leaning ex-SPD members, usually the choice of people who were fed up by the SPDs move towards the right.
    The Greens: Green party, having a lot of fringe group agendas in their fold now since "green" alone isn't really a rounded party agenda.

    Basically CDU/CSU and SPD are the "big" parties and togehter share about 60% of the votes. The others usually reach between 7 and 15 percent of the votes.

    You might already see the problem. A coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD is almost always possible, but neither party really wants this to happen since it would maybe alienate their voters. CDU/CSU and FDP is a prefered choice for both of these parties... if it manages to hit the 50%, which becomes increasingly unlikely. SPD and "Die Linke" looks like a good combo but it would almost certainly be political suicide for both of them. SPD, because more voters will move to Die Linke, Die Linke because their voters actually left the SPD for them because they can't stomach the SPD anymore. SPD and the Greens, possible, but we already had that and it cost BOTH of them a lot of votes.

    Now imagine another party joining the fold that NOBODY, at least neither of the big parties, could willingly form a coalition with. Even a big coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD might become impossible.

    Deadlock, anyone?

  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @10:33PM (#30265662) Journal

    That was just the "justification" for it. The law really kills free speech in a most horrific way. In fact, pretty much every German freaked out over this and protested (unlike when similar things happened/happens in the US/Canada). It's nice that at least one politician is trying to get rid of it.

  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter (624760) * on Sunday November 29, 2009 @10:39PM (#30265714) Journal
    "This is actually quite common in many places"

    Indeed, it's called the Westminster system [wikipedia.org]. That and the French system are to a large extent the roots of modern democracy.

    One minor clarrification to your post is that you don't vote for a party, it only seems that way because the parties hand out "how to vote" leaflets and most people simply copy thier favorite party's recommendations.

    Also the official head of state is the govenor general not the PM (at least here in Oz), the GG is a proxy for the Queen. The only real power they have is they can sack the government and call an election if the government of the day cannot resolve a double dissolution. This solves the situation where a budget cannot be passed (re: california).
  • Re:Only two options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YttriumOxide (837412) <yttriumox@gma i l .com> on Monday November 30, 2009 @02:02AM (#30267188) Homepage Journal

    Germany: where the government routinely censors political ideas and historical facts without qualm, but censoring child pornography would be unconstitutional.

    Citation? Germany tends to be pretty open about its history - including the very very bad stuff that happened not so long ago. It's true that certain kinds of speech and symbology related to that time is illegal to display under most (but not all) circumstances, however that doesn't stop (nor is it intended to stop) the knowledge of historical facts. Hell, even in the German "integration" course that I took when I moved here, which had a syllabus mandated by the govt, we spent quite a bit of time on talking about WW2.

    Censoring political ideas, yes, I'll agree with - they do their best to stop any kind of organised Nazi-ism, but they don't stop people learning about what it is and what happened with it, only practicing it. And they don't censor any other kinds of political beliefs, no matter how much they go against the current system - there are even some outwardly racist political groups (that thankfully pretty much everyone realises are idiotic crackpots - but they are not censored).

  • Re:Only two options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chrisje (471362) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:54AM (#30268304)

    On top of that I would assume two things. I must say IANAL and I've only read the Dutch and US constitutions (The Dutch ones from the 1567-republican one forward to the post 1851 amendments), but it strikes me as plausible that the practice of actual Fascism is unconstitutional in and of itself since you can't let the "right to free speech" for one group negate that same right *and* the right to the pursuit of happiness, freedom of practicing any (or no) religion and the right to a degree of safety for a whole bunch of other people.

    The second assumption then would be that the German constitution is good. I know an Israeli that claimed he read it, and that it has passages that said that the rights mentioned in said constitution is only applicable to Germans, born Germans. Now I'm not sure about that. But if that were true the Constitution wouldn't amount to a whole hill of beans for anyone that came to Germany.

  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:56AM (#30268528)
    The Queen can still veto laws. At least until tomorrow, when the Lisbon Treaty diverts her (mostly ceremonial) rolls to the EU. She's essentially a relic and good for some pomp, nowadays.
  • Re:Matter of framing (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:39AM (#30268708)

    What shall I say? We Germans are just very thorough.
    After we killed a couple hundred millions of people, we recognized this was a bad thing and wanted to make sure this never happens again. Therefore the laws, and a constitution that is basically build around the thought: "Never again".
    I fail to see how this is a bad thing, and if you don't, you might want to stand in front of one of the war memorials for some time and read the names of the fallen. We have those in almost every city or village in Germany - and the lists are very long. In my home village, I recognize many of the surnames.
    Never again.

    And your beloved "freedom"? Simply put: There is no freedom to resurrect an ideology that kills. And there shall never be.
    And I am pretty sure, even good old Mills would agree with me on that...

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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