75 years ago, a slim 259 letters and punctuation marks were enough to enshrine one of the most important fundamental rights for eternity: The first paragraph of Article Five in the Basic Law guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

They are impatient words. Anyone who reads them can smell them, taste them, and some even feel them. Even more than other fundamental rights, they must be read as an imperative: Mine! Write! Without these words, democracy is unthinkable.

Democracy only comes to life through exchange, through debate, through opinions and through the collective clash of opinions. And also kept alive.

It is not surprising that democracy and freedom of the press have triumphed hand in hand. A steep career. But both come under pressure. If revolutionaries were needed at the beginning of the meteoric career of freedom of the press, today we need defenders more than ever.

With the thunder of cannons of revolutions, the triumph of the guaranteed right to free press and opinion begins. In 1789, during the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was enshrined for the first time: “Every citizen can write, speak and print freely.”

In America, the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights woven free speech and a free press into the stars-and-stripes fabric of modern America.

Mika Beuster is chairman of the German Journalists Association (DJV). He also works as chief topic reporter at VRM Mittelhessen in Wetzlar.

And so freedom of the press smells of the cannon thunder of revolutions. It took bloodshed to fight for the right to speak freely. What an obligation for future generations.

It was only years later that the desire for freedom was able to make its way into Germany. Freedom of the press was established in the Federal Act of 1815, although it was a brief guest appearance. The Paulskirche Constitution also made courageous progress, but it was only with the Weimar Constitution that freedom of expression became a fundamental right for all citizens in Germany.

Then democracy and democrats were threatened in Germany. Freedom of the press was an early victim of the National Socialist reign of terror. Gleichschaltung, the press as an instrument of incitement and power.

The Nazis had to ignore this human right and abuse it for their own purposes. A perversion of what journalists had previously built up in terms of a professional, critical public.

The chains of Nazi rule were broken, freedom of the press was uncovered from the ruins of the fallen empire and enshrined as a fundamental right in Article Five of the Basic Law, this time with a perpetual guarantee. But freedom of the press in post-war Germany tastes salty after the beads of sweat that its defense has generated.

“Conditionally ready to defend itself” is the title of the Spiegel article over which a proxy war was waged over the question of how free the free press in Germany can be.

The still young Federal Constitutional Court has made a groundbreaking ruling, broadly interpreting the freedom of the press and protecting it from access even by politicians who feel all-powerful.

You should be able to feel it everywhere, the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, as a feeling of happiness, as a feeling of exhilaration, spreading everywhere, cheering and rejoicing. By the story!

So now imagine that there is a hard-won basic right, but fewer and fewer people believe in it. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are key pillars of a democracy. But only 40 percent of Germans currently feel that they can speak without prejudice, according to a survey by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy on freedom of expression at the end of last year.

It is the worst value since the surveys began in 1953. Political forces on the extreme fringes are now questioning fundamental rights.

Freedom of the press also has those vociferous enemies again that the echoes of the terrible history can once again be clearly heard in the streets, in back rooms, at regular tables and, more recently, in some parliaments. Are we as a society now only prepared to defend ourselves to a limited extent when it comes to attacks on fundamental rights?

Why is that – is the corridor of debate really narrow, as some people, often shrilly, claim? Or is it rather the misunderstanding that everyone should be able to express their opinion without being contradicted? But that is not how freedom of the press and freedom of opinion work. We must learn that, despite – or perhaps because of – all the polarization.

With more teaching of media and news skills already in schools? With more legislation that better regulates those corporations that not only make money with algorithms and artificial intelligence, but also increasingly produce collateral damage to democratic discourse that is difficult to control.

It’s no coincidence that the German Journalists’ Association is also turning 75 this year. Since then, it has been fighting with and for its 27,000 full-time members for the conditions that are needed so that journalism in Germany can fulfill its important task.

There are many construction sites where this defense work is necessary. Starting with fair wages and salaries for employees, continuing with the creation and securing of transparent information claims from offices and authorities towards journalists, with the development of fair rules for the use of disruptive artificial intelligence, with the sustainable financing of journalistic offerings, and so on especially locally, designing sustainable training, attracting and retaining young talent, more protection against physical attacks as well as hatred, agitation and malice on the internet for those colleagues who are simply doing their job. The list is growing every day.

A difficult job. But it is important and urgently needed. After World War II, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This established freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a human right. This requires effort every day. So that more people can smell them, taste them – and feel them more again in the future.