Ready to go: strapped in, hands on thighs, half-profile looking through the window with anticipation. This is how the son of Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) presented himself in a government helicopter that his mother had requested for a visit to the troops. The junior proud of privilege posted the photo on his Instagram account in the spring, embarrassing the minister. The politician blocked many questions about the trip, including those about the picture. Privacy, it was said, otherwise everything is lawful.
The Cologne administrative court has now contradicted Lambrecht and decided that your ministry must answer questions about the circumstances of the picture taking, despite the private nature of the picture (6 L 978/22). This also includes whether Lambrecht himself took the photo of her fellow passenger and whether she at least knew that he later wanted to publish it on a social network.
The court justified its view by saying that the photo had “sufficient reference to the office of Federal Minister of Defense” and a “direct reference to the Bundeswehr”. The minister’s right to informational self-determination must take a back seat to the journalistic right to information. The decision is not yet final, the ministry can lodge a complaint with the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia, which will then make a final decision.
The Tagesspiegel had already complained in May, referring to the freedom of the press protected by the Basic Law, which obliges the federal authorities to provide complete and truthful information to the media. Lambrecht had made a few public appearances in the debate about travel destinations and their flight attendants, but withheld essential information about the course and organization of the trip, which took mother and son to Sylt, their Easter holiday destination, in the immediate vicinity.
Most of the information was then given during the court proceedings. Since then, it has at least been certain that the visit to the “Electronic Warfare Battalion 911” in the municipality of Stadum in Schleswig-Holstein, contrary to usual planning, only had a short lead time. At the same time, Lambrecht emphasized that the idea did not come from her, but from her adjutant position.
Questions about the photo and the hotel booking made through the ministry on Sylt remained. The administrative court ruled that no information had to be given about the latter. This is “a process from the purely private environment of the minister”, in which official bodies were only involved for reasons of personal security.
The case of the creation of the photo is different. In any case, the minister also acquired this knowledge on official duty: “The use of a Bundeswehr helicopter forms the – without a doubt – official framework within which the picture should have been taken,” it said. In addition, the ministry itself said at a press conference in May that official permission was required to take photos of military aircraft. This situation cannot be compared to a private snapshot.
The flight and the accompaniment by the son were only possible on the basis of official regulations and were also billed accordingly. “If the situation shown in the photo could only come about through the office conferred on the minister and the powers granted with it, there can be no question of a purely private event, about which the respondent cannot have any official knowledge,” so the court.
In the opinion of the court, it cannot be a secret what Lambrecht knew about the use of the photo: Questions about it are “at least not of a purely private nature”, since the references to the Bundeswehr are recognizable in the picture and the official photo permission also includes the use to approve the images.
Questions about it interfered with the minister’s basic right to informational self-determination, but this interference was hardly significant because of the obvious official reference. In addition, the minister had to be told that with the trip she “voluntarily interwoven her private interests with the performance of her official business.”
The daily mirror has shown a legitimate interest in the information. It was – after the information was provided – “left to the journalistic processing, which conclusions can be drawn on the attitude of the minister in connection with the use of privileges associated with the performance of the official business assigned to her”.