ECPMF / O2 in English

Germany. “Lying press”-claims turn in violence against journalists

by Martin Hoffmann – This speech was made in Madrid on March 23th, 2017, at the Conference “The Deafeaning Silence” organized by Ossigeno and ECPMF

The author, Martin Hoffmann, is a researcher of the ECPMF Centre in Leipzig. He reported this presentation on the Conference “El Gran Silencio” at the Universidad Complutense (Madrid) on March 23rd. The ECPMF will investigate on this topic in the follow-up study to the Fact Finding Mission “Concept of the enemy”.

Dozens of German journalists have suffered violence, death threats and material damages due to a phenomenon that appeared in the beginning of 2015: the accusation that journalists belong to a so called “lying press”. Almost all of them happened at right-wing populist or extremist demonstrations. The number of comparable incidents had increased with the rise of populist movements like the German PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) and its offshoots. They claim to fight against a so perceived “Islamisation of the West” and experienced a strong rise in 2015, with more than 20.000 people joining mayor demonstrations by then. One element of their propaganda is the agitation against the media they label “lying press”, as being a part of a government mouthpiece.

The systematic and constant agitation from the leaders via speeches and social networks had its effects: in 2015 alone at least 29 journalists were violently attacked, seven suffered severe threats, 13 material damages. To give a reference: in the year 2014 ECPMF-research could find only ten (10) comparable incidents, only four (4) of them being violent attacks. That indicates a massive increase of violence and threats. In 2016 the number of attacks has decreased, as the number of demonstrations and the number of the participants has since 2016. At least 16 cases of violent attacks – the use of pepper spray, spitting, beating, hitting, kicking – have been reported for last year, additional to countless threats, insults and material damages.

Most of the incidents occurred in Saxony, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Hither Pomerania and Bavaria because that is where most of the comparable gatherings were held. In these regions right-wing extremists are more active than in others. This indicates an answer to the question: who are the attackers? Police reports, judges, testifies and footage show, that in a lot of cases journalists have been attacked by right wing extremists, who share the “lying-press”-ideology for decades. But attacks are in a few cases also attributed to leftist extremists and “civil” participants of demonstrations. Especially latter one bear a special kind of danger to reporters, photographers and camera men, compared e.g. to obvious acting right wing-extremists: they are really hard to identify in advance and so it is once harder to protect of them.

So journalists in Germany are still under threat as a minor part of the population believes that the press is betraying them intentionally in favour of the rich and powerful. Some of them might see no other way than fighting back with violence and threat against reporters and photographers, who are trying to cover the development of the populists movements. In 2017, we learned of two violent incidents so far. The decrease one could understand as good news, but the threat-level is still higher than before the appearance of PEGIDA and its outlets; and “lying press”, in German “Lügenpresse”, is now a common word in the public, which delegitimizes a whole profession.

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