Public Broadcasters Under Fire Again After Omitting Migrant Origin of Train Knife Attacker

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Controlling the narrative in the wake of two teenagers being killed and several more injured in a knife attack allegedly committed by a refugee appears to be a top priority in Germany, with public broadcasters censoring their own reporting and politician scolding the public for “assumptions and speculation”.

A German public broadcaster said this week that omitting the migrant background of a suspected killer was “not censorship, but preservation of democracy”, after watchers pointed out that their coverage seemed to be missing some key facts about a mass stabbing on public transport.

Two people, a 17-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man were killed on a regional train service near the town of Brokstedt on Wednesday, and several more were injured with knife wounds. The alleged perpetrator, a 33-year-old “stateless Palestinian” migrant asylum seeker who had lived in Germany since 2014 was arrested shortly afterwards.

Subsequent to his arrest it was revealed the suspect, Ibrahim A., had worked as an Amazon delivery driver, had several previous convictions, and had only recently been released from pre-trial detention. It is also reported he had threatened people with a knife in 2021. German magazine Focus reports that even Ibrahim’s own lawyer was surprised when the court allowed him to be released from detention on January 19th.

Despite having lived in Germany for nearly a decade, Ibrahim A. was said to speak so little German that an interpreter had to be provided for his post-arrest interrogation.

Yet, according to allegations recorded in German newspaper Bild — the best-selling newspaper in Europe — if German citizens received their news of this deadly attack from some news sources, the mental picture they might build up of the circumstances might be different. The paper notes the reportage of public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) omitted to mention the migration background of the alleged perpetrator.

Some took to social media to complain about this apparent self-censorship, which elicited a response from NDR defending their action possibly more astonishing than the original omission. Responding to one German commenting under an NDR Facebook post, Bild reports, the broadcaster replied that “the origin of the perpetrator is not relevant to the report”.

Further, to bring up the migration background of the alleged killer “leads to discriminatory generalizations or misinterpretations”. While being correct is important to NDR, the reply said, also important is “ridding our pages of racism and xenophobia”.

Ultimately, they claimed that neutering their own output to cut out immigration facts from crime stories is “not censorship, but preservation of democracy”. NDR later closed replies to their posts, noting they reserved the right to delete replies that violated their rules.

The public have also been told by a top German politician not to speculate about the nature of the killing. The regional interior minister Sabine Sütterlin-Waack warned that there should be “no room should be given to assumptions and speculations that are currently being circulated” in the public sphere, Welt reported.

This is not the first time the German establishment media has been taken to task over omitting facts from reportage some consider important context for helping the public build an informed opinion on the events of the day. Public broadcaster Tagesschau was criticised after their coverage of New Year’s Eve riots this year omitted the overwhelmingly migrant character of those known to be involved.

The broadcaster simply referred to the rioters, who caused chaos in Berlin including burning a bus, as “adolescents and young adults”. This obfuscation, said some critics, was “how you build up prejudices and not break them down”, or less charitably, “politically correct gibberish”.

This pattern goes back far further, of course. A major public order event took place on New Year’s Eve 2015-16 where 1,200 women enjoying their nights out were sexually assaulted by gangs of migrant men near Cologne railway station. The attacks, incredibly, didn’t even make the German national press until days later after international attention — led by Breitbart London — made ignoring the attacks impossible.

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