Polite, fair, correct – that is how many people will remember Steffen Seibert. On Monday, the government spokesman will answer questions from the media for the last time at the government press conference. For more than eleven years, and thus significantly longer than any of his predecessors, the former ZDF anchorman regularly sat in front of the famous blue wall and presented those present with the views of the government and, above all, that of the head of government. Seibert not only enjoyed Angela Merkel’s trust, many media representatives also see him as a press officer with integrity.
For me, he will be remembered as the one who withdrew 31 colleagues and me from press accreditation for the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017 – and thus restricted the freedom of the press. It is now clear what role Seibert himself played in this.
At the G-20 summit in July 2017, I was for the left-wing Hamburg monthly newspaper analysis & critique in action. I thought I would not need the accreditation at all, because I should focus on the alternative “Summit for Global Solidarity” at Kampnagel and the protests against the G-20 summit. On Thursday, a few hours before the start of the summit, it became clear how important the accreditation badge actually was, because the police only rarely accepted the press ID on the streets during the days of the summit.
Without the accreditation certificate, I would hardly have had the opportunity to move about freely. So I was able to experience first hand how the police escalated the situation Thursday evening in the St. Pauli district – and used water cannons against demonstrators, residents standing around and, by the way, also against journalists. I saw how panicked people in front of the oncoming emergency services climbed up a two-meter-high parapet, how police officers beat the top of the Welcome to Hell demo that had not even started, how a water cannon aimed at a person standing on a roof.
Seibert decided to withdraw the accreditations
During this police operation, in which the loss of human life was accepted, Steffen Seibert’s phone rang. Emily Haber, then State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior and now the German Ambassador to the USA, informed the press officer about new findings about a few accredited journalists who had planned disruptive actions. Seibert decided to withdraw the accreditation of these four allegedly dangerous journalists. It hasn’t had any impact on me yet.
So the next morning I was able to accompany a demonstration from the protest camp towards the city center. At some point in the morning, the BKA had informed the Federal Press Office that there were now security concerns about 28 other journalists, including me. As the day before, it was again Steffen Seibert who made the decision to withdraw my accreditation from the other 27 colleagues and myself.
When I wanted to go to the press center of the G-20 summit on Friday afternoon, I was refused entry. A BKA officer gave me a cigarette and took my accreditation ID from me. Together with other affected colleagues tWe phoned lawyers and tried somehow to get the accreditation back. Without success, but with consequences: Without the accreditation card, I could no longer get through police chains and accordingly could hardly get an idea of the protests and the police operation.
The matter had a sequel – a long one: together with some colleagues, I complained, supported by Verdi, against the withdrawal of my accreditation. The case was also picked up in the media. However, it should still take more than two years for a court decision.
Target of a right-wing media campaign
In the meantime I felt the side effects of Seibert’s decision. In February 2019, I was the target of a relatively extensive right-wing media campaign against me. The accusation from media such as the AfD-affiliated Deutschland-Kurier, the racist PI-News, the fascist Compact magazine, Junge Freiheit and the radical right-wing one percent network: A left-wing extremist reports on the AfD for ARD.
In most of the 20 or so articles that appeared on the right-hand side about me within a few days, the withdrawal of my accreditation was used as evidence to discredit my person. Björn Höcke also referred to the decision of the Federal Press Office at the G-20 summit. The usual threatening emails and murder fantasies formulated on social media were not long in coming. On Facebook, for example, people pondered whether I shouldn’t be hanged, shot or gassed.
In November 2019, the Berlin Administrative Court ruled that the withdrawal of accreditation was illegal. The Federal Press Office did not apply for an appeal, so the judgment became final. The statements by the Federal Press Office made it clear, at the latest with the reasons for the judgment, that the polite, fair and correct Seibert had ordered the withdrawal of our press accreditations – and thus deliberately restricted the freedom of the press. This small detail should be taken into account when assessing the press officer’s term of office.