Thursday, 31 January 2019 00:10

BELGIUM – Media site publishes crime stories assuming foreign nationality of perpetrators

The alternative media outlet Sceptr re-publishes crime stories that appeared in mainstream media in order to highlight perpetrators as foreign nationals. In most of the cases, however, they are labelled “foreigner”, just on the basis of their skin colour or foreign-sounding name. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for January.

This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of January, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

sceptrDate of publication: ongoing

Media Outlet:  Sceptr, alternative media covering news in Belgium and the Netherlands


Description of the anti-Muslim content:  Sceptr is a news outlet that, according to its website, reports “hard topics that traditional media neglect” and “aspires to be a taboo-free place and an instrument for politically active citizens”. In one of its sections, called “migration and integration”, almost all articles focus on crimes committed by migrants. However, in most of the cases, there is no proof that the perpetrators are actually migrants. The site rewrites articles from other newspapers in a way that discredits migrants without providing any evidence. The word “allochtoon” (“foreigner”) is used in almost all headlines to describe the criminal as a non-Belgian national. A story from Gazet Van Antwerpen, about  a man named Toufik C who was convicted of raping a 14 year old girl, is taken by Sceptr and framed in a way that describes him as a migrant with a Muslim background. No other media outlet  who reported the story mentions the nationality of the perpetrator, including the sensationalist HLN. Sceptr considers his Arabic name as proof he is a foreign national. They repeatedly use this pattern over and over. They use foreign-sounding names or skin colour to assume foreign origins and to describe them as “allochtoon”. The articles seem to select the most serious crimes, such as sexual assaults, murders, and stabbings. 

Myth debunked: Attributing foreign nationality to anyone who has a foreign sounding name or non-white skin colour, as Sceptr does, asserts that Belgian people cannot be anything other than white Christian people with traditionally “Belgian” names. It means that citizenship and nationality are not given on the basis of the country where one was born or grew up or live, but rather on the name. It fosters a  view of society where ethnic or religious minorities are considered alien, with harmful consequences on people’s life. In crime reporting, it is unprofessional to highlight someone’s religion or nationality when it is not relevant, let alone assuming it (and highlighting it). Journalistic deontological codes prescribe that, unless there is a direct connection with the crime, or unless it is useful for the public to identify a suspect and report them to the police, information such as nationality, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation should not be stated. Mentioning the nationality when it is not necessary might cause an overestimation of the proportion of the crimes committed by foreigners, as Sceptr does, which might lead to stereotyping and discrimination.

More to read:

German media respond to new rules on reporting ethnicity of criminals

Recommendations for journalists, media workers, writers and commentators when covering crime


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