“Legally permissible opinion piece” – journalist fired after Corona article, now she wins in court

“Legally permissible opinion piece”: Journalist fired after Corona article, now she is winning in court

Sylvia Eigenrauch was head of the local editorial office in Gera for the “Ostthüringer Zeitung” for many years. After two articles in which she defended the Corona protests, among other things, she was dismissed. The Gera Labor Court has now ruled that the dismissal was ineffective.

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A regional newspaper belonging to the Funke Mediengruppe (Essen) has to continue to employ a senior editor who had defended corona protests in a comment and was dismissed for this reason, among other things. The labor court in Gera, Thuringia, decided this Thursday (Az. 2 Ca 336/22).

The articles complained about by the employer, which termination the editor, were covered by freedom of expression and did not violate the newspaper’s journalistic guidelines, according to the court.

Court declares editor’s dismissal invalid

The journalist, who was fired more than nine months ago and has been with the company for almost 35 years, can therefore return to her old job with immediate effect. She must continue to be employed on her previous terms.

However, Funke Thüringen Verlag GmbH can still appeal the verdict.

The affected journalist Sylvia Eigenrauch said after the verdict to FOCUS online: “I am pleased that the labor court has restored my journalistic honor and I can write for my readers again.” The 57-year-old has been unemployed since she was kicked out in February and had against sued for her dismissal.

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The newspaper accused her of an “extremely serious breach of duty”.

Eigenrauch has been head of the local editorial office in Gera at the “Ostthüringer Zeitung” since 2011. In February 2022, she was initially terminated without notice, later properly.

Her employer gave the reason for her termination: “Ms. Eigenrauch has repeatedly created and published journalistic articles that go against the trend of the Ostthüringer Zeitung (OTZ). In doing so, she committed an extremely serious breach of duty.”

For example, her employer complained about an opinion article that appeared on January 29, 2022 in the “My Week” section and dealt with the protests against the state corona policy. self smoke wrote:

“Geraer told me that for the first time in their lives they were insulted as Nazis and fascists on Breitscheidstrasse.”

According to her superiors, this formulation gives the reader the impression that the editor is “using second-degree sources, not checking the facts and thus presenting them incompletely”.

Journalist defended protests against corona measures

Another quote from the attacked article reads:

“Yes, the demonstrations are still not registered. But nobody is illegal. The right of assembly is a right to defend against the state and is designed to allow minorities to make their voices heard.”

Her employer accused Eigenrauch of “misrepresenting the right of assembly, downplaying legal violations and not properly considering the facts”. With her article she “in no way took into account the concerns of the vast majority of the population”, but “served to a vocal minority”.

The then editor-in-chief Jörg Riebartsch (retired since October 2022) wrote Eigenrauch an angry email two days after the article appeared. He accused her of having written “a reflection that goes against the trend of this newspaper, the OTZ”.

And further: “I expressly reprimand that and I don’t want something like this to happen again.” Riebartsch: “With this article you not only violated the traditional line of the newspaper, but also permanently damaged the reputation of the newspaper as a serious source of information.”

Second point of criticism: the head of the city was not asked about the article

Just a few days later, on February 4, Eigenrauch wrote another article that displeased the editor-in-chief. In it, the head of the local editorial office quoted a woman who had written an open letter to the mayor of Gera and “received what she saw as a succinct and inexplicable answer”.

Her employer complained that Eigenrauch should have asked the city manager for a statement before the critical article was published. There was talk of a renewed “tendency-related breach of duty”.

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Immediately after the publication of the first article by Eigenrauch, Riebartsch put down in writing what he understood by a “tendency company” and sent it to his managers “for refresher purposes”. In his “work instruction” of January 30, it says, among other things:

“According to the employment contract, the guideline for our journalistic work is the press code of the German Press Council. In addition, we are committed to the European idea. With our work, we stand up for the free-democratic basic order, our Basic Law… In addition, we insist on the state’s monopoly on the use of force.”

Attorney: Press code alone is not a trend

Eigenrauch’s lawyer Lars Hausigk rejected the allegations against his client.

“The defendant claims that the plaintiff violated a trend, without even

outline what the tendency of the Ostthüringer Zeitung (OTZ) actually is

target. She quotes the press code of the German Press Council, which does not represent a trend and

which the plaintiff has not violated in any way.”

The Gera Labor Court saw it in a similar way. In his verdict, Judge Dr. Stefan Werner, the termination without notice of February 16, 2022 was ineffective “for formal reasons alone”. With the ordinary termination of February 28, there were no valid reasons for termination.

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In particular, “no violations of tendencies” by the defendant newspaper as a tending company could be ascertained. In general, the Chamber was unable to identify any “tendency in terms of content”.

According to the judge, “just saying that you comply with the applicable legal system and the Basic Law” is not enough. A substantive trend must “go beyond that”. The judge: “In any case, it wasn’t visible here.”

Labor court: “Legally permissible piece of opinion”

The judge further explained that the reports of the dismissed journalist had also been intensively examined. “The Chamber was unable to identify any legal violations in the two articles at issue here, which were written by the plaintiff.”

The first article from January 29, 2022 on the protest demonstrations against the Corona measures is rated by the Chamber as an “opinion piece” that is “within the legally permissible limits”. The second article of February 4, 2022 was also “not objectionable”.

In particular, the court did not follow the view of the editor-in-chief at the time, according to which Eigenrauch should have obtained a statement from the mayor of Gera before a critical article about him was published.

FOCUS online asked Funke Thüringen Verlag GmbH whether they would appeal the verdict or continue to employ Sylvia Eigenrauch. There was no reply as of the publication of this article.

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