The Media Diversity Institute(MDI) has filed a complaint against an article by The Daily Mail that spreads fear about Muslims.
The article, published on Mail Online on 3 May 2019, claimed that “Mohammed was the most popular first name for boys born in Berlin in 2018”, but a closer look at the results of the Society for the German Language (GfdS) study revealed that this is not accurate.
In the complaint letter addressed to the Managing Editor at The Daily Mail, MDI expressed its concerns about the way the statistics were interpreted to spread anti-Muslim fears among the readers.
In German, there is a distinction between “vornamen” and “erstnamen”. In English, both translate as “first name”. A “vorname” is the general term for “first name”, but “erstname” is the very first name out of a series of first names.
For Berlin, the graphics on the GfdS website presents both the “vornamen” (“1. Alexander, 2. Maximilian, 3. Paul”) and the “erstnamen” (“1. Mohammed, 2. Luis, 3. Emil”). While most of the German media presented the statistics referring to the “vorname”, the statistic that the Mail Online quoted referred to the top 10 “erstnamen” in Berlin in 2018,
In the complaint, MDI pointed out that Daily Mail reporter Tim Stickings “looked at one federal state (Berlin) and then only at one very specific sub-set (“erstnamen”) of a sub-set (boy’s names) for one year (2018).” In short, it seems that Tim Stickings sifted through the study on most popular first names ignoring the wider picture and the overall facts and opting instead for one name, “Mohammed”, which was number one in one category and then proceeded to build an article around this less relevant result”.
Out of around 22,000 baby boys born in Berlin in 2018, only 280 have “Mohammed” as “erstname”. A very low number, that also includes all its 25 variations, something that is unusual with other names. Mohammed is also frequently given as a very first name, which means it leads to a higher frequency than other names in the same category.
The complaint letter says that “by focusing on a hyper-specific case and inflating its significance, your article distorts facts and misleads readers.” “The way the statistics are interpreted and framed in your article suggests that the Muslim population in Berlin has outnumbered non-Muslim residents”, the letter continued. “It also suggests that this is a wider trend across Germany which is linked to the arrival of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. In doing so, your reporting implies that this trend is problematic, that having “Mohammed” among the top first names is something negative and worth highlighting.”
In the context of a media coverage as defined by ECRI as using “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”, MDI believes that the Mail Online article is dog-whistling Islamophobia. It recalls inflammatory narratives of “Islamisation” and spreads unfounded fears among those who read your newspaper.