From preposterous proposals to adopt “French” first names to made-up Christmas bans, these November highlights are an overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
GREECE – Centre-Right politician scare-mongers with nonexistent ban on Christmas
Date of broadcast: 4 November 2018
Media Outlet: SKAI TV, one of the main broadcasters in Greece
Author: Michael Voridis, former minister and current speaker of the conservative New Democracy party
Description of the anti-Muslim content: On a morning show on SKAI TV, Michael Voridis, former minister and current speaker of the conservative New Democracy party, stated that, if the government proposal on State-Church relations is implemented, religious icons such as Jesus Christ’s in schools and courts would not be allowed; that the cross must be removed from the Greek flag; and that Christmas would not be publicly celebrated.
Myth debunked: Religious equality, though it can be implemented through different policies and can be problematic, states that people must not be discriminated against on account of their religion or belief. Voridis’ claims are his fabricated and unrealistic interpretation of the government constitutional reform. SYRIZA is not proposing the dramatic change mentioned by the former minister. On the contrary, Voridis is using this opportunity to oppose the government proposal, and in doing so, is spreading exaggerated rumours of an impending nonexistent danger to incite public fear. The public is implicitly encouraged to see this as a consequence of living with people of other religions, among which refugees and asylum seekers. Such statements are divisive and incite violence, they poison the public debate by creating misunderstanding based on lies which actually could have consequences for the safety of migrants.
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UK – Misleading photo fuels hostility towards Muslims and asylum seekers
Date of publication: 21 November 2018
Media Outlet: Politicalite, populist far-right news website.
Author: Jordan James, Editor-in-Chief
Headline: “SEND EM’ SOUTH: Fury as Greater Manchester sees 102% increase in Asylum Seeking Migrants”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article reports on an exchange between the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the Home Secretary Sajid Javid on the government pledge to reduce the number of asylum seekers being sent to Greater Manchester. The photos used to illustrate the article misinform and are inflammatory. In the entire article, there is no mention of the asylum seekers’ religion and yet the photos show a British street filled with many men who are exclusively Muslim, as well as a woman wearing a niqab. The headline used (“Send them South”) is also very biased and polarising against asylum seekers.
Myth debunked: The misleading photo of Muslim people wearing religious garments on the street is used to drive the narrative of the ‘Muslim invasion’. In this specific article, using those photos misleads readers into thinking that those “asylum seeking migrants” that have increased by 102% are Muslims and that, if they are not “sent away” every British street will look like this. Those images sell the message that Muslims are a problem for British society, creating fear and misunderstanding. When put together, both the articles and images on Muslims, create a very strong and negative narrative that has an impact in the life of Muslims in the country. The article also presents an inaccuracy. It is not true that, how the article says, “THE NORTH West of England is stuck with SEVENTY per cent of Britain’s asylum seekers”. Government figures, as mentioned in Burnham’s letter, say that “the north-west of England hosts 25% of the national population of asylum applicants who require housing and support” and that Greater Manchester is housing “70% of the region's numbers”.
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FRANCE – MP wants to force citizens to adopt a “French” name
Date of publication: 19 November 2018
Media outlet: La Provence, South East France regional newspaper.
Author: Julien Aubert, MP for the right-wing party “Les Républicains”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Julien Aubert, French MP for the right-wing party “Les Républicains”, has presented a series of 18 policy proposals on Islam in France called “Oser la France” (“Venturing France). One such proposal would force citizens to adopt a “French” middle name: “We propose, when you become French [citizen], to demonstrate your desire to integrate, that you adopt another first name from the host culture [...].When you have a foreign first name and surname, by definition, people think that you are a foreigner”. The name, Aubert says, should be chosen from the French calendar and history. Aubert sees integration in the community as a civic duty. He also suggests prohibiting the headscarf and because, according to the author, "a Jordanian study published in a [scientific] review beyond any doubt in scientific field, says that when you are growing up, covering your hair causes serious health problems”.
Myth debunked: The proposal to adopt a “French” name goes even further than France’s secularism that is allegedly implemented to protect religious freedom. It criminalises not only immigrants, but also French citizens who happen to have a non-French-sounding name. The proposal claims to to strive for integration and societal cohesion, but would in fact further stigmatise certain communities. Across decades, France’s pursuit of equality through secularism has instead suppressed diversity, particularly in relations to its Muslim population. Beyond the absurdity of claiming that wearing the headscarf is unhealthy and the adoption of a “French” name, it is worth noticing how stances that have traditionally belonged to the far-right are now being embraced and proposed by more centre-right parties such as “Les Républicains”, which is the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
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AUSTRIA/GERMANY – Tabloid constructs narratives of invasion using false figures
Date of publication: 4 November 2018
Media Outlet: Kronen Zeitung Austria’s largest tabloid newspaper with a wide circulation
Author: Richard Schmitt
Headline: “Experts to ‘Krone’: ‘Now, a very different [type] is coming’”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article – which first appeared on the Krone’s website but which was then used as a source by the German outlets such as Compact Magazin – reports about an alleged impending “Grenzsturm” ("storming of the border") at the Croatian border. An unnamed “insider expert” from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior warns about an imminent breakthrough attempt by “at least 20,000 migrants”. These migrants are said to be primarily from Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, and Morocco – all countries with a Muslim majority. According to the “expert,” 95 percent of these migrants “attempting to break through there, are young men, almost all of them are armed with knives.” The Croatian police is said to be struggling to contain this “mass of armed migrants”. The expert also claims that migrants are provided with financial support in the form of “UNHCR pre-paid credit cards.”
Myth debunked: The message conveyed by this piece is that of an onslaught of aggressive invaders who are too numerous and too dangerous to be stopped are entering Europe illegally. The image of a knife-wielding Muslim invaders provokes fear among the readers. The numbers quoted in the article, however, are incorrect. Contrary to what it is implied in the article, 20,000 migrants have never been in the country at the same time – 20,000 is the overall number of migrants that were registered in the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018. When asked by the German public service television network ARD in their Vienna studio, the UNHCR said that there are currently 5,000 migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, the Croatian Ministry of Interior stated that Croatia has sufficient capacities to deal with possible threats at its border. And finally, the pre-paid credit cards provided by the UNHCR would be of little use to migrants crossing to Croatia, as the UNHCR is handing these out exclusively in Greece and that is the only place where they can be used. All this contributes to create a hostile environment for refugees based on misinformation.
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BELGIUM – News story singles out woman for wearing a headscarf
Date of publication: 21 November 2018
Media Outlet: Le Vif, weekly magazine of francophone Belgium
Author: Belga, Belgian Press Agency
Headline: “Macron à Molenbeek”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In an article about the roundtables attended by French president Macron in Molenbeek, Brussels, one person is singled out as “a young veiled woman” while most of the other people are described by profession. The article originated from the Belgian Press Agency, Belga, and was republished by a number of online news outlets.
Myth debunked: The reference to the woman’s headscarf, and therefore religion, is not relevant to her business acumen. Describing a person according to their religious garment reinforces the Islamophobic assumption that a person is always defined by their religion. This is even more pertinent a Muslim woman is singled out in a neighbourhood like Molenbeek that it’s often associated with Islamist extremism by some media outlets. Muslims are often singled out in news stories where their religious identity is not relevant, especially in crime stories. This case is more neutral but highlights how it has become normalised to speak about Muslim people differently to how people from other religions are spoken about The European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW), GTTO partner for francophone media in Belgium, wrote a formal complaint to Le Vif’s editorial team. The editor-in-chief of the magazine Vincent Genot replied agreeing that “the fact that this young woman is veiled, practically, offers no interest for our readers”, and the reference to the veil has been removed from the article on Le Vif’s website. However, the reference remains online in other media outlets because it’s in the original article by Belga. EFOMW has also sent a complaint to Belga and is waiting for an answer.
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HUNGARY – Public broadcaster publishes anti-Muslim disinformation
Date of broadcast: 15 November 2018
Media Outlet: Kossuth Radio, the public service radio, and MT1, public service television
Headline: “In Islam women are never equal to men”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This news report mentions a trial in Germany where two Afghan men are charged with rape against a 16 years old German girl. According to the report, the two men did not understand that raping a woman was wrong and they did not show regret. After a very short introduction to the crime, an expert is given the space to slur Islam. Nikoletta Incze, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Political Islam, speaks about why Islam is dangerous for Europe: “Migrants in Europe, on behalf of Islam create new political systems in which women are never equal to men”.
Myth debunked: The news report very briefly mentions a case in Germany as a segway to criticise Islam. But no context is presented and no source is quoted. When the expert, Nikoletta Incze, is interviewed, there is no further reference to the German trial. She is allowed to labour her point that in Islam women will never be equal to men. She based her argument merely on the excerpts from the Qur’an, the Sira and the Hadith, but does not take into account the contexts in which they are interpreted. Nikoletta Incze, the expert interviewed by the public broadcaster, has appeared on unreliable conspiracy websites such as Voice of Europe. The Centre for the Study of Political Islam, of which she is a co-founder of the Hungarian branch, defines itself as “a non-profit, non-political and non- religious international educational movement”. Despite claiming neutrality, the content of the website is heavily biased against Islam and Muslims, it only partially publishes the information aimed at proving that Islam is a danger to Western democracies. Having this type of anti-Muslim content on news media is not uncommon in Hungary, but it is more serious when the public broadcaster is the one spreading anti-Muslim hate.
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