Violating personal rights docudrama

How the manufacturer of thalidomide prevents the broadcast of a television multi-part series

Guido Knopp makes it possible: historical material is transformed by mixing historical documentation with topics of the boulevard a la "how many eggs did Hitler have" to real quota drivers. Up to now, the genre of docu-fiction and the associated schmonzette-like trivialization of its content have been used primarily to evoke neoliberal fears of the future ("Revolt of the Old"), to the unspeakable and unique sufferings of the German people, who had been dragged into ruin by Adolf Hitler, as victims at the end of the Second World War ("Dresden", "The escape") and relived the German World War II trauma of the nation in Rosemarie Pilcher format. But if, for a change, a multi-part series with an interesting content like "A single tablet" (about the gross drug scandal of the Federal Republic) on the program, then the broadcast is prevented because of the alleged violation of personality rights.

The 5 million Euro production by the director Adolf Winkelmann, who won the Grimme Prize, was supposed to be about the fate of the family of the fictional lawyer Paul Wegener, whose wife gives birth to a severely handicapped daughter after taking thalidomide and who, after various defamation campaigns and lengthy lawsuits on behalf of the victims, wins compensation in the form of a company endowment of 100 million Marks in an extrajudicial settlement.

Since the pharmaceutical company "Chemie Grunenthal" depicted in the film not only bears the name of the real thalidomide manufacturer Grunenthal GmbH, and the machinations of the chemical company are not necessarily portrayed in a sympathetic manner, the claim for violation of the "Company personal rights" from their side against the client WDR and the production company Zeitsprung unsurprisingly.

It is more surprising that the former opponent of the thalidomide manufacturer, the lawyer of the thalidomide victims, father of a son damaged by the drug and role model for the hero of the docudrama, Karl-Herrmann Schulte-Hillen, by mixing fact and fiction (the fictitious lawyer Wegener was given z. B. (he also sees his personal rights damaged in the television play and filed a lawsuit on the side of the Aachen-based pharmaceutical manufacturer).

What is even more astonishing, however, is that the plaintiffs were proven right in the first instance before the Hamburg Regional Court. The competent judge Andreas Buske, who is known for his unorthodox decisions since his verdict on the reporting of the hair color of Gerhard Schroder, judged on the basis of the script and not the raw footage of the film and awarded it a comprehensive documentary character, although neither interviews nor archive footage can be seen.

Fatal consequences

A precedent that could have serious consequences for television documentaries. The fictional representation of real historical events could have fatal legal consequences, if an acted character has similarities with a real protagonist, but his representation differs from the real events.

Thus, the construction of the "Corporate Human Resources Law" created a legal basis for companies that see their image threatened in a film to take legal action against its producers. It’s like BASF and Bayer suing the makers of the series "Holocaust" because Reinhard Heydrich in the scene of the discussion of the Reichskristallnacht wears badges that did not exist until 1942.

In the second instance, the verdict was handed down at the Hamburg Higher Regional Court by Judge Dr. Ravens, however, picked up again. The latter had made its decision-making dependent on the final catch of the film and adhered to the Ermengsrichtlinie of the Federal Court of Justice, which counts only "gross distortions" as a violation of the right of personhood.

Against this judgement now again the Pharmaunternehmen in Karlsruhe submitted a Verfangsbeschwerden, why the press chamber of the regional court Hamburg responsible for personality injuries only after the judgement explanation on 21. September will make its decision. If this turns out to be the case, the film is to be released on 7. and 8. November will be broadcast.

There is currently no shortage of examples of lawsuits against violations of personal rights. This is how Maxim Biller’s work "Ezra" forbidden and the performance of the cannibal strip "Rohtenburg" prevented in Germany. Also, details of Gunter Jauch’s wedding were not allowed to be reported. Because in the course of the so-called Caroline ruling, reporting on celebrities was made more difficult, whereupon the defense of personal rights of celebrities has become a lucrative business of a now specialized group of media lawyers. In the meantime, an average burden of about one tenth of the editorial budget of print media has to be reckoned with due to legal proceedings.

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