From an article on the Flemish De Standaard normalising anti-Muslim rhetoric to the French commentator Zemmour saying that he does not care if children die crossing the Mediterranean sea, these January 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.
GERMANY – Bild Published Incorrect Article Which Plays Into Far-Right Conspiracy Theories
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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BELGIUM – De Standaard Published Inflammatory Anti-Muslim Comments Without Context or Criticism
Date of publication: 7 January 2020
Media outlet: De Standaard, conservative Flemish daily newspaper
Author: Matthias Verbergt
Headline: “From cyclist to Dewinters' pupil”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: De Standaard published a piece introducing the new fraction leader of political party Vlaams Belang; Sam van Rooy, who is replacing Filip Dewinter. Sam van Rooy is famous for his strong stance on what many call the 'Islamisation' of Flanders. He is, among other achievements, the author of a book titled “For Freedom, Therefore Against Islamization.” The article opens up with the following: "In the "anti-Islamization stand" of Vlaams Belang in Antwerp, Filip Dewinter changes places with the equally brutal Sam Van Rooy.” The piece then continues with sharing some of van Rooy’s past, but largely focussed on his anti-Islam political stance, stating: “The biggest enemy for Van Rooy is Islam”. The author continues: "Van Rooy, nicknamed ‘Sam Islam’, places the Koran on an equal level with Mein Kampf, calls mosques" barracks of jihad, and predicted a religious war in his book.” The piece is accompanied by a professional photograph of both politicians smiling. The article was subsequently shared on Vlaams Belang’s Facebook page, where it gathered significant traction.
Myth debunked: The issue here is the complete lack of critical stance or context. The article is written in a manner that normalises anti-Muslim rhetoric and tropes, treating inflammatory statements with complete casualness. From the very first sentence, the author continually equates Vlaams Belang to anti-Islam sentiments and narratives, and does so without providing any journalistic critique or context. Someone who reads this piece would easily assume that the statements made by Van Rooy are simply the truth, because they are given no opposing or different information or opinion. This is a case of very unprofessional journalism.
Politicians like Sam van Rooy should not be ignored by the media; in fact, because of Vlaams Belang’s increasing popularity, the media should be paying close attention to this political party. However, this should be done in a journalistically sound and fair manner, which De Standaard has failed to do. We have highlighted in the past how Vlaams Belang repeatedly spread anti-Muslim and xenophobic ideas, largely through their Facebook page, which has over 480,000 likes. The party is gaining power in Belgium, with recent polls showing that Vlaams Belang now hold 27% of votes in Flanders, making it the top party. The party and its politicians are bound to get media attention, and journalists need to be prepared to handle this is in a critical manner.
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UK – Laurence Fox Makes Incorrect and Disrespectful Claims about Sikhs’ Role in World War I
Date of publication: 17 January 2020
Media outlet: Delingpole podcast, hosted by James Delingpole, an English writer, journalist, and columnist who has written for a number of publications, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Spectator.
Public figure: Laurence Fox
Description of the anti-Sikh content: On the Delingpole podcast, host James Delingpole and British actor Laurence Fox were discussing a variety of topics, one of which was diversity. Fox commented the following: "It's very heightened awareness of the colour of someone's skin because of the oddness in the casting. Even in 1917 they've done it with a Sikh soldier, which is great, it's brilliant, but you're suddenly aware there were Sikhs fighting in this war. And you're like, 'OK, you're now diverting me away from what the story is'." Delingpole then continued the discussion, talking about the supposed “shoehorning” (to force into an inadequate space) of different ethnicities in film, with Fox responding: “It is kind of racist – if you talk about institutional racism, which is what everyone loves to go on about, which I’m not a believer in, there is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way. You don’t want to think about [that].” At the end of the episode, Fox reverts back to the ‘1917’ film, expressing that he enjoyed watching it, to which Delingpole responds: “apart from the gratuitous Sikh.” Fox then said: “He’s great in it as well, it didn’t bother me, but it did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film… it’s just incongruous with the story.” The film they are referring to is 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, which is set during World War I.
Myth debunked: It is clear that Fox did not have the proper historical knowledge to make the claim that a Sikh soldier being portrayed in a World War I film is “incongruous with the story.” As many were quick to point out, Sikh soldiers played a vital role during the war, with one soldier in every six in the British Army being Indian, with Sikhs comprising one-fifth of the Indian contingent when the war began. Therefore, including them in the 1917 film is only logical. In this light, both Fox’s and Delingpole’s remarks are extremely disrespectful to the Sikh soldiers who fought in the war. In response to the comments made during the podcast, many took to Twitter to share stories and images of Sikh soldiers who fought during the war. Actor Rahul Kohli responded to the film: “1917 moved me in many ways. One way I wasn’t expecting was the inclusion of Indian soldiers, something many war films seem to neglect. I sat in the theatre with tears in my eyes at the mere sight of a Sikh soldier. I knew representation mattered, I just didn’t know how much.” It is clear that the inclusion of the Sikh soldier in 1917 is not only historically accurate, but also an important step in representation.
Following the backlash Fox apologised, stating: “Fellow humans who are Sikhs: I am as moved by the sacrifices your relatives made as I am by the loss of all those who die in war, whatever creed or colour. Please accept my apology for being clumsy in the way I have expressed myself over this matter in recent days.” In this case, we cannot talk about intent: it seems likely that Fox made claims on a matter he was not well informed on. But these actions have consequences and affect minority groups who are already underrepresented, and it is therefore vital to expose and correct these mistakes.
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HUNGARY – TV anchor calls migrant teenagers “black animals” and calls for “immediate cleansing”
Date of broadcasting: 5 January 2020
Media outlet: Hír TV
Author: Zsolt Bayer, founding member of Fidesz and TV host
Description of the racist and anti-Muslim content: On Hír TV, Zsolt Bayer played a video that he describes as showing “a white Swedish boy” being robbed and humiliated by “two migrants”. The video shown by Bayer was originally published by the Swedish anti-migrant news outlet Samhällsnytt, which took it from the internet to publish as a news story. Bayer calls the harassers “black animals” and questions whether they belong in the country: “they are animals. How did they get here and how long can they stay?”. He wonders why “the society would not demand the immediate cleansing of these black animals, in the strictest sense of the word”. He continues by stating that “they would most likely be excused, as we have already seen”. To reinforce this claim, he mentions that a few years ago a Swedish woman activist “who rescued and nursed migrants” was, according to Bayer, raped and murdered by migrants. Bayer’s dismay increases when he adds that the woman's father “used the funeral to take the side of the migrants and explain that no one should be angry.” To avoid accusations of racism, Bayer says that he is not attacking people on the basis of their skin colour, and that in the past he denounced the abuses of US soldiers who took photos of themselves urinating on the corpses of members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bayer also underlines many times that the video was filmed in Sweden: “This is Sweden, ladies and gentlemen”. He claims that this video is proof that “Swedish society has been made so stupid as to not care about it [what happens in this video, and the migration that is causing it]”, and compares this state of a “silenced” and “dumbed down” society, where anything can be done to them without any consequences, to Nazi and Communist regimes.
Myth Debunked: According to psychology scholar Nick Haslam, calling people “animals” means ascribing depravity, disagreeableness and stupidity to them, in contrast to humans, who are moral, civil and intelligent. Historically labels of animalisation have been directed towards black people as an instrument of inferiorisation. When the word animal is used to refer to a person of colour, as well as a migrant, it constitutes a racist dehumanisation. Zsolt Bayer’s words “black animals” are unequivocally racist, and his calls to cleanse society of migrants directly reproduces the discourse of far-right authoritarian regimes, including Nazi Germany. The use of a video from Sweden is significant. In the Hungarian propaganda media, Sweden (as well as Germany and France) has become the poster child of the dangers of migration. Scaremongering stories from these countries are used daily to show why migration should be heavily restricted. Indirectly, they are supporting Viktor Orbán's government agenda, based on a long-standing hostility toward refugees and migrants. Zsolt Bayer is a founding member of Hungary's ruling Fidesz party. Far-right media in the US and Europe, as well as RT, obsessively show crimes committed by migrants. Picked up from liberal media, the individual stories are generally true, but they are used to support broader harmful narratives that grossly misrepresent the character of Muslim and migrant communities.
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FRANCE – Commentator Zemmour says he does not care if children die crossing the sea and calls for immigration rights to be abolished
Date of publication: 22 January 2020
Media outlet: Face à l'info, TV programme on French free-to-air news channel CNews
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Talking on his own TV show Face à l'info, known polemist Eric Zemmour has, once more, expressed violent racist remarks against migrants. He explicitly stated his lack of interest towards children who die while trying to cross the Mediterranean sea: “I don’t care […] To defend my children, I prefer that the other dies". Zemmour then called for any immigration to France to be forcefully halted by removing existing rights: "There is illegal immigration: we have to stop it by sending them back. There is legal immigration: we have to stop it by removing their rights". He then continued: "We need to abolish the family reunification rights; we need to abolish the right of the soil; we need to abolish almost all the right of asylum; we need to tell them not to bring their wives here and in any case tell them she will not be French; we need to abolish dual nationality. This is to say that we need to abolish rights”. Zemmour also referred specifically to Muslims: “I think immigration, the mass-migratory invasion we’ve been living for years, will cause a civil war in France and the Islamization of the country. For me, these words are more important than the death of people who want to come. As I didn’t ask anything from them, to me, they are invaders".
Myth Debunked: Eric Zemmour is well known for his racist anti-Muslim rants. When he says that he does not care if children drown and die while crossing the Mediterranean, he is being deeply disrespectful of people’s lives, who have been dying because of European policies. When he adds that letting people die is a way of defending his children, he is associating children with Islamic terrorists. His prophecies about civil war and “Islamization” actively encourage violent attitudes towards people who are perceived to be migrants. Since October, CNews has been hosting Zemmour’s evening programme, from Monday to Thursday. A few weeks after public outrage in response to racist remarks on Islam and the Algerian war, CNews decided to no longer broadcast the programme live, but to check it before release. Sleeping Giants, a campaign against the funding of hate in the media, argues that as CNews actively decided to include this racist content in the broadcast, the news outlet itself is responsible, in addition to Zemmour. In December, CSA (the Superior Council of the Audiovisual) called on CNews to respect its broadcasting obligations in terms of incitement to hatred or violence. With this new case, they have received more than 4,000 complaints.
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