Interview by Martin Hoffmann, ECPMF

„When journalists are attacked in their private sphere, this is a new dimension“

Interview with Helmut Schümann, columnist at German daily “Tagesspiegel, 18.11.2015

Helmut-Schümann Helmut Schümann (photo: Tagesspiegel)

Did you recover from the attacks on 30th October?

Yes, at least physically this was a triviality. Mentally I get treated at a trauma-ambulance, but by now I walk the streets without fear and don’t have to turn around permanently. I’ve also done a self-treatment and took a walk through Berlin-Charlottenburg for a whole evening, trying not to turn every three metres. Since then I am doing pretty fine. Even though I am on holiday now, I will continue my column as usual and I am not influenced by the incident. I don’t feel intimidated.

Have you had to experience something similar before?

Of course I receive letters to the editor. But to call them hate-mail would be exaggeration. They have a rather moderate tone. Certainly one gets insulted from time to time, “lousy would-be journalists”, such things are part of the daily routine. But I did not receive any mails in the “Lügenpresse”-direction. I did not experience such a thing before.

As I could read in an article in Tagesspiegel, you connect the attack directly to your column in which you strongly criticised the Pegida movement …?

I don’t know if I can attribute the attack directly to my column. It was a reaction on the day after. From someone who assumingly lives here in my neighbourhood and who has seen me and recognized me. There is always a caricature published with the column, and it’s easy to find my face on Google. I am known in my neighbourhood, the people here know what I am doing as a job. He must have seen my, from the front. I was on the way to do some shopping and then he knocked me down from behind.

You say it was someone from your district…

This is what I suspect. At least someone who knows me.

You have filed charges. Are there any new findings?

Investigations are carried out, but I was only able to give them a vague description of the offender. It was already dark and I have only seen his back. The knock came from behind and until I realised that I was personally addressed with “Schümann, you leftist filthy swine”, I was already lying on the floor. The punch was not very hard. If I had been prepared for that, it wouldn’t have floored me. But I was just doing my shopping list in my mind. Then my glasses flew from my nose and until I realised what happened, he was at 20 or 30 metres distance and running away at rapid speed. Therefore I could only give them a vague description of the culprit.

Are there any witnesses of this incident?

No, there were no witnesses. It happened close to Kurfürstendamm (big main street in Berlin), but on a part with mainly back walls. Because of this there were only few passers-by at the time of the incident, at 18.30h.

Did the police tell you how likely the identification of the offender is?

No, they did not. They surely will not find him, the probability is very low …

Did your perception of your job change because of this incident?

No, the column will go on. I will continue to write against AFD, PEGIDA and other right-wing tendencies in our country. And what I did not do: I have received many invitations to well-known talk-shows – and I declined all of them. As, for one thing, I do not want to gig around as victim of my job, and for another, I do not want to create the impression that me or “Tagesspiegel” achieve any effect through this. And the third reason that was given in the beginning: I am easy to find on the internet, I am transparent, also as Tagesspiegel- and book author. But nonetheless I did not want to show my nose in every camera all over the country. That seemed to me like an escalation, a provocation. Because of this a cancelled everything. But on 26th November I will be talking at Nachtcafé because the colleague there is an old colleague of mine and she was very insistent.

Do you now fear to be in the limelight, as you are more known because of such a painful incident?

I might stand in the limelight, but I am not conscious of it. I do not look at such webpage, I just know it from benevolent readers of mine. And Vera Lengsfeld published on the “great” website Achse des Gutenthe most nasty article about me This refers to what I just mentioned, saying it “is staged just to raise circulation numbers” etc. I do not know Vera Lengsfeld personally. She neither asked me about the case.

Do you see a new dimension, a new extent of the actions against the so-called “Lügenpresse” (“lying press”)?

I see a difference in the following aspect: If I accompany as journalist, let’s say, a PEGIDA demonstration, and report that I was attacked during this, then it happened in my professional environment. This is part of my job, occupational hazard. But an attack in the private sphere – I do not believe that I was the only one, there was a colleague in Dortmund who was attacked…

  • Yes, Peter Bandermann is one among several

Yes, this is a new dimension. When at the demonstration hordes shout “Lügenpresse, Lügenpresse” (lying press), then this is terrible, without doubt. But that journalists are getting attacked in their private sphere is a new dimension.”

What reaction did you get from the publishing house, the editorial staff, your colleagues?

One hundred percent support and sympathy.

Do you receive any more threat-mail after this, via Facebook or letters to the editor?

No, nothing threatening. There were anonymous or pseudo-anonymised posts like “Serves him right”, “It was bound to happen” or “For sure, when you read this stuff…” But in comparison to all the positive posts I received, the amount of negative ones is extremely low.

Which concrete effects of the debate referring to “Lügenpresse” (lying press) do you see on press freedom?

I do not see an endangerment of the press freedom. I consider our state and Basic Law so fortified, that this cannot be shaken. If some colleagues are influenced by the Lügenpresse-debate?– I hope not. I cannot imagine this.