German press council rebukes daily for false Israel claim

‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ erroneously said ‘tens of thousands of Israelis’ fled to Federal Republic.

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January 7, 2015 23:00
3 minute read.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Front page of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper . (photo credit: screenshot)

BERLIN – The German Press Council reprimanded the largest broadsheet newspaper in Germany – the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) – for falsely claiming that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany because of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration.

The late December decision is believed to be the first rebuke regarding an SZ article covering Israel, Roman Portack, a media expert at the Press Council, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

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According to the decision, SZ violated the press code because the paper did not exercise “due diligence in examining the truth” of the article before publication.

The dispute centered on Thorsten Schmitz’s claim that “tens of thousands of Israelis fled” Israel and sought refuge in Germany. Schmitz, a former SZ correspondent in the Jewish state, published his contention without proper sourcing in a September commentary titled “Germany’s Terrible Silence.”

Henryk M. Broder, an authority on contemporary German anti-Semitism and a columnist at the daily Die Welt, presented statistical data on his blog in September from the Office of Migration and Refugees that disproved Schmitz’s assertion.

The German Press Council relied on the Migration and Refugee data in determining that Schmitz employed a flawed method of journalistic verification. Post emails and telephone calls to Schmitz seeking a comment on the decision and whether he planned to correct his article were not returned.

In September, Schmitz declined to provide the Post with the source for his assertion that “tens of thousands of Israelis” had fled to the Federal Republic. He criticized Broder for the exposing the flaws in his commentary.

The Office of Migration and Refugees showed a total of 11,655 Israelis living in Germany in 2013. In 2012, 11,244 Israeli citizens lived in the Federal Republic.

Schmitz and the SZ told the Press Council they meant “refugees” in the sense of fleeing from “the difficult economic situation for the middle class” in Israel and the “hopelessness of the peace process,” but not in the definition an asylum-seeker. The Press Council limited the scope of its reprimand to the faulty numerical claim that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany.

A spokeswoman for SZ told the Post on Wednesday that Mr. Gericke, the SZ’s attorney, was not immediately available for a comment. It is unclear if SZ plans to issue a correction to the online article and in its print edition.

Heribert Prantl, a top SZ editor covering domestic politics, did not immediately respond to Post queries.

Sacha Stawski, the head of the Frankfurt-based Honestly Concerned media watchdog group, filed the formal complaint against SZ with the Press Council in September.

SZ is a “permanent topic” for his NGO because of its sloppy reporting on Israel, he told the Post. SZ has published anti-Jewish and rabidly anti-Israel cartoons, Stawski noted. The paper published a caricature of Israel as a demonic, starving monster and showed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, as a hook-nosed octopus devouring the world.

Stawski said that “piece by piece,” via articles and cartoons, SZ “demonizes and applies double standards to Israel.”

“No other country” is attacked in this form by SZ, he said. He praised the Press Council for establishing that SZ “crossed a line” with its false contention.

Portack from the Press Council told the Post that Stawski did a thorough job in proving that Schmitz’s numbers were incorrect. Asked if SZ is obligated to correct Schmitz’s report, Portack said in principle yes, because “a false presentation” exists.

Nathan Gelbart, a leading German media lawyer, told the Post it should be “self-evident for a Germany-wide traditional paper that a correction should take place regarding the false numbers without being compelled by external agencies.”

He criticized Schmitz for claiming to know the motivations of Israelis in Germany but failing to perform basic reporting to gather the views of Israelis. Gelbart, a managing partner with the international law firm FPS, said Schmitz sought to spread an “anti-Israel sentiment” in Germany. The commentary was “cheap and a badly researched article against Israel. Any provincial drug store newspaper would apologize for such an article,” Gelbart said.

Tabloid papers exaggerate, but a paper like SZ adheres to high journalistic standards and a correction should be a natural response to false statistical information, he said.


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