From several incidents of unethical coverage of the Christchurch terror attack to a antisemitic float at a Belgian Carnival parade, these March 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.
BELGIUM – Antisemitic Float at Aalst Carnival Parade Receives Complacent Response from City Officials
Date: 3 March 2019
Group: Vismooil’n VZW
Name: Sabbatjoor 2019
Description of the antisemitic content: During the annual Carnival parade in the Belgian city of Aalst, the group Vismooil’n NZW participated dressed as caricatured orthodox Jews with several antisemitic features, including long ugly noses, bags full of cash and coins and rats in their dresses. The group walked together with a float, featuring equally antisemitic themes, which they entitled “Sabbatjoor 2019.” This name refers to Sabbath, which the group chose because they jokingly claim to be “taking a Sabbath year to save money in order to have a more beautiful wagon next year.”
Images of the parade were widely spread as the event is popular in Belgium. It was broadcast on live television, as well as through several social media channels. The TV presenter broadcast made no comment on the antisemitic float or the characters, reacting very nonchalantly when explaining the theme. Shortly after the parade several Jewish organizations and politicians, including Bart de Wever and the European Commission, complained publically. The discussion reached the United Nations, with UNESCO threatening to remove the carnival from the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage list. The case will be discussed during the UNESCO annual meeting in December. In response to criticism, the mayor of Aalst stated that he believes the group when they say there was no malicious intent with the float, and that the city does not want to impose censure on the carnival.
Myth debunked: The Aalst carnival is well known for its satire, a fact which some are now using to excuse Vismooil’n and their float. Whilst satire is a perfectly acceptable form of expression, it should not serve as a smoke-screen for the promotion of hatred. Caricatures of Jews portrayed as having long noses were used heavily in WW2 Nazi propaganda, and the narrative that Jews have a lot of money and use it to control the world has been a dominant theme in antisemitism for decades. What Vismooil’n displayed at this year’s carnival is clear cut antisemitism, and it should not be accepted by a public figure in power such as the mayor. The mayor references censorship as his reason for not acting on the many complaints his office received; however, what seems to be overlooked here is that removing hate is not censorship. Removing religious hate speech from a public event does not impede free speech in any way.
There is also a broader issue to address here: why were so many people complacent towards Vismooil’n and their float? We can assume that the float took weeks to make, with the help of several people, and that in the run up to the parade, many people saw the float. It is worrying that at no point anyone stopped Vismooil’n from proceeding with the production of this float. Furthermore, when it was broadcast on live television, the presenter did not point out the antisemitic themes represented by the float. It sheds light on a larger societal issue that people are becoming more accepting of antisemitism in everyday life and seeming to forget what destruction such rhetoric has caused in the past.
More to read:
FRANCE – TV Channel Broadcasts Anti-Muslim Remarks On Christchurch Terror Attack
Date of publication: 15 March 2019
Media Outlet: LCI, French 24 hour online TV channel
Author: Guillaume Tabard
Headline: "New Zealand: the terrorist evokes thoughts of France"
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The TV show “24 Pujadas”, hosted on the 24 hour online TV channel LCI, is moderated by French journalist David Pujadas. In this particular episode Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers known for his racist, anti-migrant and anti-Muslim stance, was invited onto the show along with Guillaume Tabard, editor-in-chief of Le Figaro, filmmaker Romain Goupil and Yael Goosz, chief of political news at France Inter. The host along with his guests discussed the recent terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. On the topic, Tabard said: "We had lived through deadly Islamist terrorism in France, so if we want to keep score, we are not yet even. Don’t even mention the possibility of a rematch”. The video has been viewed on Twitter over 570,000 times.
Myth debunked: Tabard’s comments on the terror attack in Christchurch are not only heartless but also suggest it is acceptable for Muslims to die at the hands of terrorists, as people in the West have also been victims of Islamic terrorism. With this statement, he is equating Islamic terrorists with all Muslims, seeming to imply that they are one and the same. This sentiment is often used to paint Islam and all its followers as violent and in need of restraint, theories which have been dispelled repeatedly. Islamic terrorists do not represent all of Islam, just as Christian terrorists do not represent all Christians. Tabard’s reference to “balance” is extremely disturbing, as it seems to suggest that more Muslims must die at the hand of terrorists before they are “even” with the West. Besides being insensitive, this claim ignores the fact that the majority of victims of terrorism in the world are Muslim, and that Muslims in France have also died in Islamic terrorist attacks.
The reach of this statement by Tabard is worrying. With over 570,000 views on Twitter, this narrative reached a lot of people. Moreover, Tabard is the editor-in-chief of one of France’s largest newspapers, and thus has a far reach and influence. For someone in such a high position to be involved in victim blaming normalizes the practice and sets a dangerous precedent for society.
More to read:
GREECE – Popular Newspaper Pushes Xenophobic Narrative on Front Page
Date of publication: 4 March 2019
Media Outlet: Dimokratia, a popular Greek newspaper which leans to the right.
Author: G. Charvalias
Headline: “Persecution of Christians in the times of SYRIZA”
Description of the xenophobic content: This article is based on a case that dates back to November 2018. It concerns Apelli beach on the island of Lesvos, a beach visited by refugees living on the island. During the summer of 2018, a small cross was erected on the beach. The intention was unclear: some asserted that the cross acted as a memorial for those who had lost their lives in the area, whereas others claimed that the cross was raised in an attempt to discourage migrants and refugees from visiting the beach. In November of the same year the cross was removed; it is not known who removed it. Recently, with the summer season approaching and the beach opening again to the public, a group of 35 people raised a new cross, this time a bigger and metal one. The group of people was arrested by police but the cross remained on the site. Dimokratia’s front page calls this case “persecution of Christians” and goes on to claim that at a “time where hooded gangs and hooligans are partying and provoking common sense, they prefer to arrest those who are believers.”
Myth debunked: The issue with this front page article is the editorial decisions leading to this inflammatory reporting. The case is a sensitive and ongoing one and should be reported on. However, there are some basic editorial principles which have not been followed by this Dimokratia journalist. The article is one sided right from the get go and asserts its position by stating that this case is an attack on Christians. Nowhere in the article does the author mention the people who have claimed there was xenophobic intent behind raising the cross, therefore not giving a voice to the other side of this debate. Moreover, the headline is extremely emotive and plays into the narrative that Christians in Europe are being persecuted, which according to the far-right, is because of the rise of Islam. The piece could have given platform to multiple voices and started a healthy discussion, but instead Demokratia has helped further xenophobic sentiments.
More to read:
HUNGARY – Sensationalist Headline Warns of Invasion by African Migrants
Date of publication: 28 March 2019
Media Outlet: Origo, a pro-government news portal.
Title: “The European Parliament would release millions of African migrants to Europe”
Description of the xenophobic and anti-Muslim content: The article reports on the European Parliament’s resolution on the fundamental right of people of African descent in Europe, adopted of the 26th of March this year. The resolution was constructed to encourage EU member states to develop national anti-racism strategies and to tackle racism in areas such as education, housing and the justice system. The resolution was approved with an overwhelming majority. The Origo article states that the resolution “provides an opportunity for illegal migrants from Africa to legalize their status in Europe” and the author claims that this proves that the EU “expressly supports economic migration.” The author comes to the conclusion that this means ‘millions’ of African migrants would be ‘released’ into Europe, and leads the article with this title. This article was published on the news website Origo, one of Hungary’s leading news platforms. The news organization changed its editorial stance in 2015, moving from being critical of the Fidesz-led government to becoming more government-friendly in its political reporting. This article was also disseminated on Híradó, a Hungarian public broadcaster with a far reach.
Myth debunked: The issue with this article is the sensationalist headline, which is not in-line with the rest of the article. The piece itself remains mostly factual, quoting parts of the resolution and explaining the outcome of the vote. Nowhere in the article, about the EU resolution itself, is there any mention of ‘millions’ of African migrants coming to Europe; this is an assumption made by the author. In fact, immigration is just one aspect of the resolution and focusses on providing “safe and legal opportunities” to African migrants wishing to enter the EU; this in no way equates to ‘releasing millions’ of migrants into Europe. It is clear that the author has a message to pedal here, which is made clear in the headline, and is in line with Fidesz-led government’s anti-immigration stance. The title also has a clear clickbait element; leading with such a shocking statement will urge people to interact with this news piece. However, this is not professional journalism. It is ironic that the article references elements of the resolution which aim to reduce discriminatory stereotypes and tackle the issue of afrophobic attacks, when it is exactly this kind of reporting that leads to such discrimination. Both Origo and Híradó have a large influence in Hungary, with the latter being a public service broadcaster. This comes with responsibility for informing the public in a fair and neutral manner. Sensationalist language and scare-mongering tactics in reporting are not in line with this.
More to read:
HUNGARY – National Television Channel Promotes Xenophobic and Anti-Muslim Narrative
Date of publication: 16 March 2019
Media Outlet: Hír televízió, television news channel
Description of the xenophobic and anti-Muslim content: The Hungarian television news channel Hír televízió broadcast an interview with Bianka Speidl, an expert from the Migration Research Institute, which is known to have close ties to the Hungarian government. The segment, titled “Invaders”, was opened with the following words: “Millions are waiting in Africa and Asia to get into Europe, while the integration of Islamic people who have lived here for decades has mostly been characterized by failure.” These opening remarks set the tone for the whole interview, in which Speidl discusses immigration, particularly of Muslims, and their alleged failure to integrate into European societies. Speidl claims that “the most problematic area is actually Islamic immigrants with a Muslim background, since Islam is fundamentally different in its structure, world perception and self-determination from all other religions in Europe.”
Speidl and the presenter also discuss birth rates for Muslim immigrants, stating that in a short amount of time there will be a huge rise in the number of Muslim children. Speidl also claims that politicians in the West are aware of this and are encouraging migration in order to “increase consumer demand”.
Myth debunked: This interview showcases clear anti-Muslim narratives often used in Hungary, specifically pushed by think-tanks like the Migration Research Institute, known to distribute research skewed towards the government’s message on topics such as Islam and immigrants. The title alone clearly signposts an anti-Muslim stance; we often see populist movements talking about an ‘invasion’ of Muslim immigrants and specifically talking about birth rates, as Speidl did here. The discussion of political involvement seems to refer to a ‘secret scheme’ involving rich politicians and Muslims, of which native European societies will be the victim. In this sense, the interview at times reads like a conspiracy theory.
Hír televízió is one of the most watched news channels in Hungary and used to be a fair source of news. Recently, it has shifted to the government’s side, broadcasting more and more favorable coverage of the government. This interview is a salient example of this. Immigration, and more specifically the disapproval of it, is a key political policy for Orbán’s current ruling party. It has caused much friction ahead of the European Parliament elections in May. The topic of immigration in Hungary seems to be operated like a switch; when support for the ruling party needs to be strengthened, the topic of immigration becomes more prevalent in the public sphere, with the government supporting media being heavily utilized. Through this interview, Hír televízió is acting as a supporter of this tactic, one that uses fear mongering around the topic of Muslims and immigration. Voices like Speidl’s should not be silenced; however, they must be subjected to scrutiny. If the topic of immigration was discussed by a panel on national television, include Speidl but also other voices from different camps, too. The end result would be a much fairer piece of news.
More to read:
GERMANY – Far-Right News Website Employs ‘Whataboutism’ in Covering Christchurch Terror Attack
Date of publication: 16 March 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: “Media coverage limited or non-existent – 113 Islamic terror attacks in the last 30 days”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article starts by acknowledging the gravity of the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch and the grief it caused the Muslim community. However, the tone quickly changes and the sincerity of this acknowledgement is undermined by the subsequent paragraph which states “we wish that the same media would track Islam’s constant trail of blood with the same attentiveness”. The article claims that the media does not report on Islamic terror attacks and that the “media could conveniently refer back to these resources and address them every now and then at least”. The piece ends with the rhetorical question “Why is nobody doing this?” This question is meant to lead the reader to one conclusion: The media is biased and there must be a specific reason why Muslim deaths on the other side of the globe are highlighted, while attacks perpetrated by Muslims are not discussed. Considering the blog’s track record, it is fair to assume that the article blames the alleged “Islamisation” of the Western world and in particular Germany.
Myth debunked: This article relativises the Christchurch attack by means of a strategy resembling “whataboutism”. Whataboutism is a logical fallacy which aims to discredit the opponent by accusing them of hypocrisy. In other words, rather than arguing one’s own case when accused of flawed behaviour, people making use of whataboutism will go on the offensive and simply call out the flaws of their opponents. Similarly, PI News does not simply condemn the attacks but instead cannot help but point to the perceived “danger” that Muslims in general allegedly still pose. In a way, this strategy also resembles victim blaming, since the group of people who were targeted by the Christchurch attack are promptly cast in a negative light, almost as though PI News intends to prevent any empathy that the Christchurch massacre might generate for Muslims.
Sadly, this article is far from being the only attempt at such a reversal. Here are four articles from other far-right blogs that follow suit: An article on “achgut.com” writes the “truth of the matter is: the West has basically gotten used to Islamic terror, accepts it daily"; another article on “philosophia-perennis.com” holds that “only a couple of weeks ago, 20 Christians were murdered in a Church on the Philippines [...] but that only merited a side note in the German media”; and an article on “freiewelt.net” argues that while it is good that the Christchurch massacre receives media attention, “numerous attacks on Christians are suppressed [...] and that is fatal.”
More to read:
UK – Politicalite Focuses Only on Terrorist, Not Victims, in Coverage of New Zealand Terror Attack
Date of publication: 17 March 2019
Media Outlet: Politicalite, populist far-right news website
Author: Ian Adamczyk
Headline: "REVEALED: New Zealand Attacker WASN’T ‘Far Right’, He Was Linked To Left-Wing Groups"
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article largely focuses on dismissing claims that the terrorist who committed the recent attack in Christchurch was far-right, referencing various elements of his manifesto to ‘prove’ that he was in fact a left-wing individual. The article spends very little time talking about the actual terror attack and mainly focuses on the terrorist’s political affiliation. The piece looks to compare the coverage of attacks committed by Islamic terrorists to that of the New Zealand attack, claiming that “when Muslims kill and shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ the motive is never clear with the establishment, the police and the mainstream media very quick to diagnose the terrorists as being ‘mentally unstable’ and nothing to do with religion.”
The article then seems to compare victims of terror attacks, and states that there are “double standards” between Muslim and non-Muslim victims. It focuses on London, stating: “You do not see the Mayor of London, terrorist defender Sadiq Khan increasing security around churches or Christian places of worship when Muslims carry out these despicable and callous attacks but when Muslims are attacked he is the first one out offering increased security at mosques around the capital.” The author goes on to accuse the media of only giving attention to Muslim terror victims, and ignoring Christians who have been victims of terrorism.
Myth debunked: Covering a terror attack in the media can be difficult to navigate, but there are certain clear guidelines all journalists should follow for ethical news pieces. According to Dr. Verica Rupar, this includes focusing on the victims, not the attacker, something which this Politicalite piece clearly does not adhere to. It seems the author’s main aim is to dispel any claims of far-right affiliations with the terrorist; overall, the article is written in a very defensive manner. This is likely because Politicalite identifies as a populist news publication, and thus does not want any affiliation with the terrorist. Politicalite was not the only British publication to pay close attention to the terrorist, not the victims. The Daily Mirror ran a headline describing the terrorist as an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer” alongside a picture of the terrorist as a blond toddler, later dropping the term “angelic” after much backlash.
The victims of this terror attack are given little to no attention in the piece; on the contrary, it seems Adamczyk feels they and their community have received preferential treatment due to their Muslim faith. This is then tied into the dangerous rhetoric that Muslims, in this case in the UK, are valued more than non-Muslim Brits, and references the London mayor Sadiq Khan as a “terrorist defender.” This all plays in to the narrative of a ‘Muslim invasion’ occurring in Europe, a narrative which is used heavily by the far-right and has repeatedly been debunked. Critique of media coverage of terrorist attacks, no matter the religion of the victims, is valid; however, it should not be used as an excuse to disregard those affected by the terrorist attack in Christchurch.
More to read:
BELGIUM – La Libre Categorises Muslims into ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’
Date: 6 March 2019
Media Outlet: La Libre Belgique, centrist francophone daily newspaper
Authors: Lahcen Hammouch and Sébastien Boussois
Headline: “Decolonizing the Great Mosque of Brussels is Urgent”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article is about Brussel’s Grand Mosque. It is an opinion piece by Lahcen Hammouch, the director of Al Mouwating TVand Sébastien Boussois, a political science researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. The piece focuses on two NGOs looking to take over the management of the Mosque, who are referred to as “Belgian Muslims” and the “Saudi-influences Muslims.” The authors of the piece are critical of Saudi influences in Belgian mosques, an influence which they claim spreads Salafist Wahhabi ideology. They allege that this ideology has been the direct cause of violent attacks, such as the one in Brussels in 2016. The NGO with alleged connections to Saudi Arabia are referred to as the “dark opponents” in the text as well as “obscure competitors.”
Myth debunked: The main issue with this article is the generalisations made between the so called “Belgian Muslims” and “Saudi Muslims.” The authors of the article make clear that the “Belgian Muslims” are the ‘good Muslims”, and the “Saudi Muslims” the ‘bad’ ones. Of course, the topic is much more complex than that and making such a generalisation makes it easier to discriminate against so called ‘bad Muslims’. Critiquing Saudi influence is newsworthy and valid; however, using such commentary to call out a whole group of worshippers brands them collectively as bad and sets a dangerous precedent. Referring to this group as ‘obscure’ and ‘dark’ paints a scary image for the reader without providing much more supporting information or context, leaving the reader to assuming there is a big threat looming. The article also implies that Salafist Wahhabi ideology has direct links to the terror attacks, stigmatising a large group of Muslims. Again, while critique is valid and needed, we must always remember not to judge a group by the actions of a few.
More to read: