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.
Date of publication: 6 January 2020
Media outlet: Bild, Germany’s most-read tabloid
Authors: Celal Cakar and Frank Schneider
Headline: “Police prevent terrorist attack in Gelsenkirchen” (original version) / “Police Officers Attacked in Gelsenkirchen” (updated version)
Description and debunking of the anti-Muslim content: Bild reported on a case which occurred in Germany of January 5th, where a man approached police in Gelsenkirchen wielding a knife; he was subsequently shot dead. The original headline of the Bild article stated that the police in question had prevented a terrorist attack. The first sentence of the piece initially read: “The police are certain: this cowardly attack was an attempted terrorist attack on police officers in the middle of Germany!” However, at the time the article was published, there was no confirmation from officials that this was an attempted terrorist attack. All that was known at the time was that the perpetrator supposedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ when approaching the police officers. Officials later stated that they did not find a conclusive indication that the incident was terror-related, and furthermore shared that the man had psychological problems, which they believed to be relevant to the case. In response to this information, Bild changed the headline of their article to: “Police Officers Attacked in Gelsenkirchen”, and the opening article line to: “The police are certain: this cowardly attack was an attempted assault on police officers in the middle of Germany!” They made these changes without any explanation or clarification. The article has a total of 34,411 total interactions.
Myth Debunked: The issue here is with editorial standards, and how two journalists behind this Bild article handled the case. At the core of journalism should be facts, and no article should be published without ensuring all facts are confirmed. This was evidently not done by the authors. Errors like this have a serious impact, as could be seen in the hours following the publishing of the original piece. Several far-right and anti-Islam accounts shared this article, including several politicians of the German right-wing AfD party, who shared the Bild article along with statements such as: “Islamic motivated attack could be thwarted!” This is how misinformation spreads: with one poorly researched article that is then used to spread inflammatory ideas. In this case, the authors jumped to a conclusion that played into the hands of far-right conspiracy theories that hold that Germany (and the rest of Europe and the “Western” world) is under constant threat of Muslim terrorists. The initial sensationalist headline generated a lot of outrage - and therefore clicks - at the expense of stereotyping Muslims.
We cannot speak of intent: we do not know whether the journalists of this piece reported the case the way they did. However, we can clearly see the very negative effect of unprofessional journalism like this. The fact that Bild did not owe up to their mistake only makes it more problematic, as it is unclear to the reader when the article was changed, and why. Furthermore, the changes to the piece will have no effect on those who read the original version and shared it. Bild needs to take ownership of their mistake, and clarify the changes they made to the article.
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