BELGIUM – Alternative News Blog Shares Disinformation and Sensationalist Content Pushing a Xenophobic and Anti-Muslim Agenda
Date of publication: 19 June 2019
Media Outlet: ReactNieuws, a blog which describes itself as a “strongly polarizing, alternative news channel”
Headline: “German Chancellor Merkel shakes like a leaf during German national anthem”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: ReactNieuws is a blog which has been gaining readership recently, with a steadily increasing audience on Facebook. The majority of their content focuses on crime and sensitive news items, which are framed in a way that depicts migrants, particularly Muslim migrants, as dangerous. It follows a similar editorial style to right-wing blogs like Sceptr.net and Doorbraak.be. A recent piece focused on Angela Merkel, who was seen shaking during the German national anthem. ReactNieuws reported on this event, claiming that Merkel was seen acting uncomfortably during the national anthem because she felt a sense of ‘overwhelming shame’. This ‘shame’, according to ReactNieuws, is due to the fact that she betrayed her country and its people by “opening the border in 2015 for an invasion of more than 1 million Muslims, who since then have raped and murdered German women and girls to a disproportionate extent.” The piece of content has been shared 31 times on Facebook.
Myth debunked: This post on the ReactNieuws blog is clearly a piece of disinformation. Merkel’s condition on June 19th was widely reported and all respectable news platforms referenced her comments shortly after the event, in which she stated that the shaking was due to her being dehydrated. It is clear that ReactNieuws used this event to push a hateful narrative against migrants and Muslims. This article is very much in line with ReactNieuws’ editorial style, which regularly posts misinformation and sensationalist news. Another piece published this month reported on a stabbing incident committed by a German individual with Palestinian roots. Commenting on the crime, the author stated: “These types of murders and other types of stabbing crimes in Germany are becoming common, especially committed by people from Arabic cultures”. Earlier this month they also published an article which toed the line between misinformation and a conspiracy theory. The article discussed a case which occurred last year in Paris, where a migrant saved a child dangling from a balcony. ReactNieuws claims that this never happened because it is physically impossible, and that it was all set up to ‘brainwash’ the public into accepting migrants. The articles published by ReactNieuws are rarely based on facts and are often clear examples of misinformation used to convince the reader that migrants, particularly Muslim migrants, are evil and ‘ruining’ Europe. Blogs such as ReactNieuws have been cropping up on the internet more and more, and they are receiving a worrying amount of traction. Articles are often written in a journalistic style which can make it very difficult for a reader to distinguish between genuine news and misinformation.
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GERMANY – Article Discussing German Birth Rates Pushes Far-Right ‘Great Replacement’ Narrative
Date of publication: 9 June 2019
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”) is a far-right news website that defines itself as “Against the Mainstream, Pro-American, Pro-Israel, Against the Islamisation of Europe, For Fundamental Laws and Human Rights”
Headline: “‘Umvolkung’ [ethnic replacement] continues and continues and continues … Hooray, the new birth figures are in”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article picks up on the publication of the new German birth rate figures by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany. However, the article uses these numbers to push the conspiracy narrative of “Umvolkung” (i.e. ethnic replacement) which is often also called “the Great Replacement.” Specifically, the article states that “the number of foreign-born babies increased from the already high 97,702 children in 2017 to a frightening 105,901 last year” and further points out that “German” birth rates, on the other hand, decreased for the second year in a row. Furthermore, the article stresses that the actual numbers of what it deems “true” Germans is bound to be much lower than these figures. The article refers to the significant reform to the nationality law which was passed in 2000 and claims that because of this, “all naturalized Turks, Arabs, “German Shepherd” Germans [a slur for people not deemed genetically German enough] and others are included”.
The article therefore holds that “the situation is much more dramatic” than it was before and “anyone who claims that there is no “Umvolkung” simply is not telling the truth”. It also brings up the racist argument of the so-called “mass immigration” which it considers to be relentless and which consists of immigrants who “mainly live off social welfare provided by the state and who receive the usual full amount – every month!” As such, the article does not merely concern itself with the purity of the German gene pool but it also utilises the old economic stereotype of the lazy foreigner who freeloads off native taxpayers. The article further states that it is mainly foreigners from Muslim countries that allegedly contribute to the “Great Replacement” in Germany and calls them sardonically “Merkel’s Islamic guests”. Additionally, the article draws on the disinformation that “Mohammed” is the most common first name for new-borns in Berlin.
Myth debunked: This article uses several far-right tropes, focusing a large part of the article on the idea of the “Great Replacement”. The figures used in the article are framed in a manner which incites panic, citing the numbers along with terms such as “already high“ or “frightening,” signaling a problem to the reader. The article states that “it is not the eleventh hour, but already past twelve”. This type of apocalyptic thinking is characteristic of far-right conspiracy theories, in which threats to the in-group are perceived to be imminent or already underway and of an existential nature. According to such conspiratorial narratives, these doom and gloom scenarios can be averted – but only if the enlightened members of the in-group, who see the seemingly true underlying nature of the societal circumstances, act soon. Unfortunately, already this year we have witnessed where this perceived pressure to act can lead: The right-wing terrorist who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, started his manifesto entitled “The Great Replacement” with the words “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates.” Even if such violent outcomes are not intended by the people who write the conspiracy narrative of “Umvolkung”, the Christchurch shooter makes a strong case for the argument that facilitating this narrative is at the very least negligent behaviour because it works to strengthen a perceived pressure to act for potential far-right terrorists.
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GREECE – Religious Authoritative Figure Makes Anti-Muslim Claims in Inflammatory Article
Date of publication: 18 June 2019
Media Outlet: Vima Orthodoxias (‘Orthodox Tribune’) is a website which reports on ecclesiastical issues as well as overall religious and social content
Author: Kalavrita Ambrosios
Headline: “Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta: Fire and hail are signs from God”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The news outlet Vima Orthodoxias published a piece by Bishop Amvrosios, which was written as a letter of complaint by the Bishop to the general public. In the piece, the Bishop takes a strong position against the Minister of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, Mr. Gavroglou. The Bishop claims that recent unstable weather phenomena are signs of God being against the government, a government which has recently updated the penal code, made changes to its relationship with the church and proceeded with changes to the educational system. Ecclesiastical issues in Greece are mainly handled by the Ministry of Education, especially issues related to the appointment of clerics or issues related to religion courses in the education system. Bishop Amvrosios, who has a high level rank in the Church of Greece, denounces the minister claiming that he, the PM and SYRIZA Party are “atheists and antichrists who murder us.” He claims that Mr. Gavroglou is a “Minister-Protector of Islam who bears the Koran in his hands and who wears a red scarf.” He criticises the construction of the first mosque in Athens, which was inaugurated last week by the Minister.
Bishop Amvrosios is well known for his radical and racist statements. In 2015 he targeted the LGBTI community stating that “the scum of the society took the upper hand” and invited his audience to spit on them. He has been convicted by a court decision in January 2019 of public incitement to racist violence and for misappropriating his ecclesiastic position.
Myth debunked: Throughout the piece, the Bishop cites various newspapers and articles to support his claims. However, the cited material is largely from far-right outlets such as Makeleio or Eleftheri Ora. They are two platforms which Get The Trolls Out! reported on in the past due to their inflammatory nature and the misinformation they publish. At one point in the article, the Bishop welcomes legal action undertaken by Mr. Pantelidou against the construction of a mosque. A Greek Orthodox Church was allegedly knocked-down to make space for this mosque, as reported by Eleftheri Ora. However, this was soon proved to be untrue and extremely misleading by fact-checking website Ellinika Hoaxes, which provided evidence that a ‘self-identified’ priest occupied an old building in Botanikos prior its demolition, claiming it as an Orthodox Church. It was later shown that the Church of Greece does not recognise the self-proclaimed church of Panagia Eleftherotria or any of its ‘bishops.’ Despite this news being proved as fake, Bishop Amvrosios still uses it in his article to prove the government’s supposed appeasement of Islam. The overall narrative of the piece takes a strong anti-Muslim stance, claiming that the Greek government is in a nefarious partnership with Islam. This is particularly worrying coming from a religious figure given a voice on a prominent religious platform. We can assume that some look to Bishop Amvrosios as an authoritative figure given his religious position, and could therefore adopt this narrative easily despite it being largely based on misinformation.
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FRANCE – Yellow Vest Activist Doubts the Existence of Gas Chambers
Date: 10 June 2019
Media Outlet: online TV "Le Media, on a show called “Cartes sur table”
Description of the Antisemitic Content: Etienne Chouard, a teacher, blogger and a well-known political activist who has been supporting the Yellow Vests' proposal of "Citizens' Initiative Referendums" was interviewed on the TV show “Cartes sur table” on “Le Media” online channel. The two journalist hosts asked him to clarify his position on the Holocaust and about Alain Soral, a notorious Holocaust denier that Chouard previously defined as “a person who resists”. Answering vaguely Chouard said “I will tell you 'yes I have no doubt', because otherwise I am guilty of thought crime”. He claimed that he is not an expert on the topic (“I’ve never read anything about it [the Holocaust]” and “we ask people to be sure, to be very sure, on a topic if they know nothing,”). Chouard suggested there is nothing wrong in questioning the existence of the gas chambers (“If it is so bad to have doubts about it, simply prove it and move on”) and stated that racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial are “opinions”.
Myth Debunked: It is highly unlikely that Chouard, a teacher and a political activist “has never read anything” about the topic, in a country where WW2 and the Holocaust are taught from primary school. Chouard was, however, well-informed about the law against Holocaust denial. By saying “If it is so bad to have doubts about it, simply demonstrate it and move on”, Chouard is ambiguously contesting the existence of gas chambers and calling historians to prove it. Despite a long-standing debate, among historians and legal experts, on the effectiveness of making the Holocaust denial illegal, expressing doubts about the systematic genocidal killing of approximately six million Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, is highly antisemitic. It cannot be presented, as Chouard said, as an opinion. First of all, there is innumerable evidence of the existence of gas chambers. And yet, the denial, the minimisation or the trivialisation of them are strategies used to delegitimise the suffering of Jewish people and reduce public sympathy with them. In a time where antisemitism is rising, it is crucial not to tolerate these forms of hatred. GTTO partner Licra and the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) will file a complaint against Etienne Chouard for his antisemitic claims about the gas chambers. In a tweet announcing their decision to take action, Licra quoted the relevant words stated by the historian Yves Ternon on the ‘Days of the Righteous’: “As long as there are deniers, the genocide is not over.”
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HUNGARY – State News Website Repeats Government Press Conferences' Fabrication about EU Cash Assistance to Refugees
Date of publication: 8 June 2019
Media outlets: public service media Hirado
Headline: “Brussels still distributes tens of thousands of migrant cards”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The public service media website Hirado reported on a government press conference and uncritically presented the information provided by Zsigmond Pál Barna, MP for Fidesz party. Zsigmond Pál Barna reportedly said that Brussels still hands out tens of thousands of migrant cards (70,000 this year with a total of 2 million in the past few years) for a total of 500 billion forints (EUR 1.55 bn). The article also said that the “migrant cards” were paid for with European taxpayers money and that this system is not subject to any control. Zsigmond Pál Barna was quoted saying: “Who knows to whom these cards are distributed, they are all anonymous” and that, considering the leader of ISIS also received this “migrant card”, it’s very likely numerous migrants will be able to pay human traffickers with that money. The article also reported Barna saying that Fidesz-KDNP will do anything to stop Brussels implementing this harmful and dangerous programme.
Myth Debunked: The Hungarian government uses different channels (press conferences, press statements, propaganda media, etc.) to spread disinformation that, with the exception of a small number of independent media outlets, mostly go unchallenged. Hirado is a media outlet owned and operated by the government to serve its own interests as it manufactures and spreads pro-Fidesz and anti-EU propaganda. This article parrots the Fidesz MP’s anti-refugee and anti-Muslim claims without any fact-checking and without providing accurate information that could expose the falsehoods. The EU and UNCHR implement several humanitarian programmes (the Emergency Social Safety Net, Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation) that provide assistance in cash to vulnerable people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. Debit cards are meant to speed up the distribution of the monthly subsistence allowances to meet basic needs, such as food, medicines, or paying rent. The Hungarian government regards these cash assistance programmes as a “scandal”, as proof that the EU is actively encouraging the arrival of migrants. By saying that the “migrant cards” are distributed to anyone, including Muslim terrorists, the government and Hirado are set on instilling fear in Hungarian readers by associating migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and Islam, with criminality and poverty.
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BELGIUM – TV Journalist Insulted for not being "Belgian Enough" to Present the News
Date: 20 June 2019
Media Outlet: social media
Description of racist and anti-Muslim content: Belgian journalist Salima Belabbas was attacked with racist comments on social media after presenting, the RTL Info news bulletin at 1 pm for her first time. On Facebook and Twitter, a number of news watchers questioned her suitability to conduct the news programme based on her ethnicity and her name. The comments were racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic. Many said that Salima Belabbas should present the news in her country of origin, and requested “a Belgian person to be the host of a TV show in Belgium”. This incident happened nine months after similar abuse was addressed to Cécile Djunga, weather presenter on RTBF.
Myth Debunked: This incident shows that the voice of journalists of colour is still relatively absent in Belgian media. According to those who attacked Salima Belabbas, journalists in Belgium should be white (and Christian) to be deemed suited for the job or, in other words, you cannot possibly be Belgian (or European) if you have a migrant background. This dangerously racist sentiment stems from white nationalist ideologies. White nationalism, as explained by the ADL, “defines a country or region by white racial identity and which seeks to promote the interests of whites exclusively, typically at the expense of people of other backgrounds”. In the light of these hateful comments, RTL moderated and deleted those posted on their social media pages and called the Movement against Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia (MRAX), a Belgian governmental body. Furthermore, while the broadcaster will not file a lawsuit, it plans to draft an effective plan to protect its employers. The French main regulatory body for broadcasters CSA praised RTL’s efforts.
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UK – The Telegraph Publishes Article Undermining the Seriousness of Islamophobia, Referring to it as a Game
Date of publication: 19 June 2019
Media Outlet: The Telegraph, national daily British broadsheet newspaper
Author: Nick Timothy
Headline: “Conservatives must not empower the hardliners with a needless inquiry into Islamophobia”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: Nick Timothy’s article is based on news about a proposed independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. According to Timothy this inquiry is unnecessary and compliance would mean the Party is playing the “Islamophobia game”. He also states that “opponents are trying to create a false equivalence with Labour’s endemic anti-Semitism.” This is referring to many allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, which has been investigated in the past and is being investigated again currently. Timothy concludes his article by stating: “The Islamophobia game is a sinister attempt to limit free speech, marginalise moderate Muslims, and boost Islamism. We must not fall for it.” Nick Timothy is a political adviser and served as Joint Downing Street Chief of Staff to Theresa May up until 2017.
Myth debunked: The definition of Islamophobia is a highly contested one in the UK, and a resolution has not yet been reached. Debate around this topic has been ongoing and has stimulated many discussion. Nick Timothy, just like anyone else, has every right to discuss and debate this definition. In his own words: “No religion – Islam included – is above criticism, debate, satire and scrutiny.” Yes: every religion must be open to scrutiny; however, this should not result in dismissing Muslims who have suffered at the hands of anti-Muslim sentiments and violence. 2018 saw a 26% increase on the previous year in anti-Muslim attacks and in the week following the Christchurch terrorist attack there was a 593% increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes. The evidence is clear: anti-Muslim hatred and violence is present and rising in the UK, and it is therefore only understandable and right that people are looking for ways to combat this. If a political party is showing signs of such sentiments, it must be investigated. To downplay these worries by referring to it as a ‘game’ is not only disrespectful but also dangerous, as it dismisses the violence experienced by victims. Moreover, Timothy seems to equate those fighting for a definition of Islamophobia to those who was to boost Islamism, which is a sweeping judgment and generalisation.
It is also worrying to see Timothy compare the problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party to antisemitism in the Labour Party, and concluding that concerns about the former are less valid than the latter. Is one form of religious hate speech less important than another? Narratives like this seek to pit the two communities against each other, something which member from both communities have repeatedly spoken out against.
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