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German court rules in broadcaster Nazi camp spat with Poland

August 21, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A German court has ruled that public broadcaster ZDF can’t be forced to post a specifically worded apology demanded by a Polish court for erroneously calling two World War II Nazi camps “Polish death camps.”

ZDF used that wording in reference to the Majdanek and Auschwitz death camps in advertising a 2013 documentary. After the Polish Embassy in Berlin objected, it changed the text to “German death camps on Polish territory.”

A Polish citizen who was a former inmate of Auschwitz and the Flossenbuerg concentration camp then launched a legal battle with ZDF, which twice apologized to him for the initial error and later published an apology.

In 2016, the plaintiff secured a ruling from a court in Krakow, Poland, ordering ZDF to post on its website for one month an apology stating that the original wording was “an incorrect formulation that distorts the history of the Polish people.” The broadcaster did publish the text from Dec. 2016 to Jan. 2017, but the plaintiff considered its compliance unsatisfactory and sought to have the Polish ruling legally enforced.

Lower German courts ruled that the verdict can be enforced in Germany. But the Federal Court of Justice said that it disagreed because the required formulation would violate the broadcaster’s right to freedom of opinion.

It noted that ZDF’s original formulation was clearly wrong, but the issue at hand was the wording of the apology required by the Polish court, which it said the broadcaster couldn’t be required to “publish as its own opinion.” It also found that the punishment was disproportionate, given that the original formulation was online only for four days, and ZDF had apologized and published a correction.

The use of expressions like “Polish death camps” to refer to German-run camps in occupied Poland causes deep offense in Poland.

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