Concept of the enemy II – “lying press” and journalistic self-assertion

Since the end of 2015 the number of politically-motivated attacks on journalists in Germany has reduced. Unfortunately that does not mean that we can sound the all-clear. In 2016 too 19 journalists were violently attacked. On top of that there were numerous threats, insults and incidents of damage to property. The nature of the threat seen in 2015 is still apparent: strengthened by the right-populist agitators’ insults of the “lying press”, a section of the population regards journalists as the enemy.

Even specialist correspondents like Andrea Röpke, who has been observing the right-wing scene for a long time, notice a change in the attacks:

Because many more media workers are being attacked, of course it naturally has a much stronger public perception. (…) On the other hand, it has got worse. It has become much more dangerous now that we have these mass movements. And they are strangely uninhibited. They do not care about values and the norms of hum decency.”

The reduction in the attacks is explained by the fact that the right-populist demonstrations are happening less frequently. But even in 2017 press representatives had to contend with sudden outbreaks of violence, threats and insults. So far this year (April)there are two registered attacks on journalists.

The link between the growing strength of the right-populist movements and the increase in attacks became more solid in the current investigations: in the year 2016 18 out of 19 physical attacks took place in or near gatherings of PEGIDA, the Alternative for Deutschland or events organized by right-extremist groups. A robbery took place at an extreme left-wing gathering.

The region (Land) of Saxony is still at the top of the ECPMF statistics’ league of shame with seven physical attacks. But several assaults were also registered in Berlin, North-rhine Westphalis, Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Bavaria.

Often the attacks were triggered by photos or videos being taken of the demonstrators without their permission. Many of them felt provoked by the photos being taken. The ECPMF analysis showed that cameras played a role in more than 60 percent of the violent attacks in 2015 and 2016

All the public service broadcasters in Germany report an increase in hostilities. In an ECPMF survey that reported that aggressiveness towards their works has increased noticeably since the conflict in Ukraine and the rise of PEGIDA. This shows itself mainly in the noticeably higher amounts of hate mail, threats and also attacks on their own workers. The violent attack on a team from MDR TV (central Germany regional broadcaster) shows that journalists are still facing a high degree of danger. While filming in a residential district of Erfurt the camera team Julia Cruschwitz and reporter Tarek Khello were attacked on 16th January 2017.

Being shouted at, having the camera grabbed, that’s almost an everyday occurrence. But this was three, four men with sticks and beer bottles (…) I had never experienced such a thing.”

Meanwhile the legal process of dealing with the attacks moves at a snail’s pace. Only eight of the 60 attacks registered by ECPMF in the year 2015 – which include severe threats and damage to property – had reached a verdict by mid-April 2017.

The time it takes to deal (with the cases) is too long (...) That’s because of a shortage of staff in all departments. Not only the police but also the legal authorities, the courts, the state prosecutors” says Andreas Loepki of the Leipzig police management team.

Alongside the overburdened justice system, the relatively low clear-up rate is also down to the victims’ disinclination to report attacks. Of the current results from criminal charges, eyewitness reports and expert assessments a provisional picture emerges of the typical attacker: often attackers from the extreme right or hooligan scene commit violence and threats. But not exclusively. Worryingly, “in many cases of open threats against journalists the people were totally surprised because they were not attacked by “jackbooted Nazis” but by a grand-dad, or the woman next door. You can’t predict this aggressiveness,” says Tom Strohschneider, editor in chief of Neues Deutschland (New Germany, a left-wing national newspaper). Isolated incidents of attacks from the extreme left wing of the spectrum were also registered.

Media companies, trades unions and authorities have developed numerous counter-measures. These include safety training courses for reporters and the employment of bodyguards for camera crews when filming political rallies.

We use the security personnel with a great deal of sensitivity. They only come into play at high risk events and they have to watch our backs,”

says Dr Yvette Gerner, service chief in the editorial department of ZDF TV ( national public service broadcaster).

But radio and press are also involved in dialogue and exchange over social media networks. Because of the accusations of “lying press” and the recently- diagnosed deep lack of trust in the media, a wide-ranging debate has developed amongst editors, the public and the media academic community about the trustworthiness of news reports.

These accusations and smears, that claim journalists are the goverment's slaves and mouthpieces, are further reinforced by populist agitators. They find a broad resonance amongst their supporters. "Lying press" speakers from PEGIDA and AfD are therefore partly responsible (for the attacks). By their systematic insults they create amongst their followers and image of the journalsits as the enemy. In this way the trustworthiness of an entire profession is systematically undermined. Above all, the danger is still present: journalists in Germany must still contend with becoming the victims of unexpected attacks, when they are seen to be openly practising their profession in public.


The ECPMF interviewed these people for the current research project, starting in the spring of 2016:

  • Andrea Röpke, freelance specialist correspondent
  • Dr Yvetter Gerner (ZDF TV)
  • Tom Strohschneider (Neues Deutschland - New Germnay , a left-wing national newspaper)
  • Robert Dobschütz, (Leipziger Internet Zeitung)
  • Julia Cruschwitz and Tarek Khello ( MDR TV)
  • Andreas Loepki, Leipzig Police.

In addition more than one hundred sources were assessed for the analysis of the cases: charge sheets from state prosecutors and police authorities, also academic studies, internal reports from media companies, court verdict, parliamentary questions, social media posts, surveys, video footage and witness statements.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –