Friday, 17 February 2017

Making the case

The second 'fake news' item following the Trump press conference coverage on last night's BBC One News at Ten saw the former Independent editor-turned-BBC media editor Amol Rajan deliver the following report:
Huw Edwards: Facebook could find itself being fined in Germany if it refuses to remove stories which are shown to be false. The German government could become the first in the European Union to use the law to try to stop the rise of so-called 'fake news.' Facebook says it's taking the threat seriously and is appointing its own external fact checkers. Our media editor Amol Rajan sent this report from Berlin. 

Amol RajanFootage from Dortmund, West Germany, on New Year's Eve. A report on the influential anti-establishment website Breitbart suggested a huge mob attacked a church, while waving al-Qaeda flags and chanting "Allah Akbar" - "God is great". But there was no Islamist assault on this church. It was fake news. And the vicar mentioned in the Breitbart article, which is still online, fears the consequences. 
Pastor Friedrich Stiller: I was astonished, because it was a lie. The Reinold's Church was not burned down and no flags from Islamic State. 
Amol RajanThe false story about this church has helped to harden the political mood here, and with elections coming up there's a growing determination to take action against fake news. Here in Berlin, one party in the ruling coalition wants Facebook held to account. 
Lars Klingbeil (SPD): We want to force Facebook to build a permanent contact agency, where the law enforcement can reach them 24 hours for the whole week. The second point is we will define periods and in that period they have to react against fake news. The third thing is that they have to pay a high fine if they do not react against fake news. 
Amol RajanThese are independent fact checkers now used by Facebook - the first outside of America. 
Fact checker: Refugees get the driving licence for no money, they get it as a present. This is ridiculous... 
Amol RajanIf they discover fake news, they mark it as false and send a warning message to German-speaking users. 
David Schraven (Correctiv): A lot of this fake news only focuses to bring hate to our communities. When this hate comes to an election point, and people have made their mind up on election day on the basis of hate and lies, then it's a big threat to our society. 
Amol Rajan: Anas Modamani knows what that feels like. He fled Syria and came to Germany in 2015 as a refugee. When the German Chancellor visited the hostel he was in, he took a selfie. So this is the selfie you took? Soon it went viral, together with the claim that he was a terrorist. More fake news, and now he's suing Facebook. 
Anas Modamani: It made me feel very bad, I even cried. I'm a good person. I found work, I go to school here. Then I found out people were seeing me as a terrorist. These are lies. 
Amol RajanMany Germans fear that false stories online could stoke the rise of extremist parties. Fake news seems unlikely to disappear any time soon, and what's happening here could help determine the future of democracy in Europe. Amol Rajan, BBC News, Berlin.
The striking thing about that report is that Amol Rajan only presented the case for this planned German legal attack on 'fake news' (from the likes of Breitbart). 

Where were the voices opposed to it? Or the counterarguments against it that Amol could have outlined? Nowhere to be seen (or heard) - and I've read plenty of them elsewhere.

Indeed, not only did Amol report this story in a one-sided fashion he also gave his own view, reinforcing the case being made by the German government by strongly implying that "the future of democracy in Europe" is threatened by fake news.  

Impartial broadcasting? I don't think so.


  1. If I recall correctly the claim was that the mob tried to burn the Church down by aiming fireworks at the steeple (just as at Cologne the year before the mob aimed fireworks at the Cathedral or Church). I don't think Breitbart ever claimed the Church was burned down.

    You can hear the crowd shouting Allah Akbar here:

    And this is Breitbart's defence of its reporting:

    The BBC is Fake News Central.

    1. Whatever the failings of the original Breitbart report, reading it now shows that Amol Rajan certainly misreported it here, as you say.

      When he says that Breitbart says the crowd were "waving al-Qaeda flags", he's not reporting accurately.

      Breitbart actually said the crowd were waving Free Syrian Army flags - though it calls the FSA "al-Qaeda and Islamic State collaborators".