The Concept of the enemy

By Martin Hoffmann, ECPMF

The reproach of "lying press" echoes above right-wing demonstrations, through internet boards and publications for a year now. Parallel to the rise of right-wing populist movements that gained strong influence especially in Eastern Germany, journalists at work are attacked more and more frequently. The ECPMF Fact Finding Mission “Lying press” consisted of research into cases that happened in the last year all over Germany, in extended interviews with the journalists Helmut Schümann, Merten Waage and Andreas Postel, who were affected in different aspects of the “Lying press”-debate and connected attacks, editor-in-chief of regional paper Dirk Birgel, the General Secretary German Journalist Association of Saxony Michael Hiller, the media critic and civil rights activist Vera Lengsfeld and representative of Leipzig police, Andreas Loepki. ECPMF staff also attended right-wing populist gatherings to witness the atmosphere and incidents. The research was conducted between 16th November and 12th December 2015.


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“I won´t do a live reportage from some LEGIDA demonstration again. That was too much for me.”

Merten Waage, radio reporter and victim of threats against journalists

At least 29 journalists were physically attacked this year. They were kicked, beaten, spat on or shingled. The reason: They were doing their job – or were working for what an apparently increasing part of Germans believes to be “Lügenpresse” – “lying press”. Dozens of others were threatened because of their work for the "mainstream media", harassed and persecuted. This is a massive increase to previous years, when only a few cases of violent attacks were reported.

Journalists and media houses were attacked in almost all parts of the country, from Munich to Torgelow, from Berlin to Dortmund - but one look at the story map below shows: Saxony is the region where the attacks on journalists concentrate, its capital Dresden is the center of a worrying development. For almost one and a half years, an increase of threats and assaults against journalists was registered, from the summer of 2015 on violent attacks rose even more.

This development coincides in time and space with the emergence of a movement which, organized by the association "Patriotic Europeans towards Islamization of the West" (
Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes - PEGIDA), meets on Mondays in Dresden - and which mobilized thousands of supporters. Meanwhile it has spin offs all over Germany. They offer together with the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany) party a spiritual home for those who feel betrayed by German policy - and by the German press. Already at the first Pegida meetings in autumn 2014, German media were declared as part of the problem by the speakers, labeled as "lying press", which is a directly controlled organ of government, a compliant propaganda tool.

From objectivity …
The defamed German media reported from the very beginning with an undertone of disapproval about the right-wing populist movement, which perceives and represents itself as a new civil rights movement from the right, 25 years after the German reunification (“Wende”). And the German press must face the accusation of partly undifferentiated reporting. Often all participants – of quite different political and social origin – were equalized and displayed as extreme right. Many stereotypes are emphasized.

This way many moderate demonstrators and sympathizers of Pegida felt unjustly positioned in the right or even extreme right-wing corner by editorial articles. For them the image of the German press, which was claimed repeatedly by the insurgents of the movement previously, was now confirmed: that the press mixes up reporting the news and giving opinion for their own purposes and uses it powerfully against them. The perception of the media as "lying press" was now consensus among extremists and, this was a new dimension, among many "concerned citizens", which means normal citizens who just claim themselves as “concerned” and not against refugees in general.

… to the lying press
Journalists had finally lost their status as neutral observers. In the beginning of 2015, they had become a part of their concept of the ‘enemy’, perceived as entangled with a vain government that pushes its opponents supported by compliant media to the margin of society. That partly explains why verbal and physical attacks on journalists in the assemblies of right-wing populists could reach such dimensions: The abuses were tolerated by many moderate protesters, if not encouraged.

So the agitation from the platforms and a gradually crumbling confidence in the media and their reporting, (perceived as selective and hostile) led to this concept of the enemy among the protesters. Michael Hiller, as general manager of the Saxon Association of Journalists (DJV Sachsen) on the spot, watched an almost linear increase: "As the Pegida demonstrations began, initially just no one had talked to the journalists. There was an absolute refusal. The second thing was then verbal abuse. The third stage is now physical attacks, shouting, spitting and shoving." The chronicle of events confirms Hiller’s observation, also beyond the borders of Saxony.

Visual journalists as easy prey
At the very frequent gatherings of the so-called -GIDA movements (regional branches of Pegida are often named according to the name of the town, e.g. Legida, Thürgida, Bärgida) protesters meet directly with the press as part of the  concept of their enemy - and very often feel harassed, overwhelmed and provoked by journalists, as countless sound bites and Vox Pops indicate: "Switch off the camera" or "Don´t shoot me" are the countlessly repeated requests of protesters, which journalists tend to ignore when they pursue their professional duties as usual. It is a conflict of interest, which some participants want to solve with threats or violence. The journalist becomes a provocateur in their eyes.

This thesis is strengthened if one takes a look at the cases we currently know. More than half of the victims of physical violence are camera crews and photographers. One reason: they are easier to identify than their print counterparts. But there might be another one: because it seems to the demonstrators as if photographers and camera crew use their equipment against the will of most participants and “shoot” them.

The “lying press” – no new phenomenon
They are also more visible from a distance, which makes them an easy target if someone plans to attack them. And they are stronger symbols, if somebody wants to express his displeasure or extreme political views through a direct attack. In spite of a lack of reliable information - what one could learn from the media coverage and police reports is that the offenders seem to belong in large parts to right-wing extremist circles assumed to operate among the protesters. That is feasible, since both the concept of "lying press" as well as direct threats and violence against journalists and media houses have not appeared for first time with Pegida, AfD and Co. but quite a time before. Already in May 2012 rightwing offenders sprayed the words "lying press - shut up" on an affiliate of the Lausitzer Rundschau-newspaper in Spremberg in the state of Brandenburg (close to Saxony) - right next to right wing slogans. More comparable attacks followed in recent years in Saxony and Brandenburg.

Before the assaults which were connected to the "lying press"- debate caused the headlines in the papers, the Dortmund region become negatively famous for attacks on journalists. Known as a centre of the right-wing scene, journalists have been threatened, attacked or even terrorized at home for critical comments and reporting on the scene. In addition, the extreme-right squads were creative in very macabre way: They released obituaries of critical journalists, bloggers and photographers in the social networks. Previously, in the autumn of 2014 at a demonstration by the hooligan network Hogesa in Cologne, intimidations against journalists occurred. Similar violence was observed later like in the vicinity of -GIDA demonstrations.

Extremists as alleged offenders

The Leipzig police recognized a strongly marked tendency to violence from the "hooligan clientele” among the Leipzig Legida-participants who “had been spotted regularly on the demonstrations”, said Leipzig police spokesman Andreas Loepki. In particular these clearly radicalized circles present a high risk to journalists. Radio reporter Merten Waage experienced this on 21 January 2015, when he reported from the first large Legida event. He was chased by a mob there. He believes this was a planned, not a spontaneous action: "They had disguised themselves and were clearly searching for counter-demonstrators or anyone to be aggressive or violent. Just the fact that they all reacted to a sign by one person shouting "go, go" and all were rushing forward is a proof to me."

Such descriptions, intelligence of the security authorities, the long history of right-wing violence against individual journalists and the fact that the majority of assaults in the area occurred from right-wing and right-wing extremist events pointed in many, but not all, cases to a particular offender circle: extreme right-wing activists, who are already radicalized and "use" the populist movements as confirmation or to disguise their actions. This development matches up with the heavily growing number of attacks against party offices and private property, as of the Left party or of the AfD, conducted from both extreme political blocs. At least one attack on media workers has also been reported from leftist counter-demonstrators in Dresden.

No matter what political background, whether radical or civil, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media houses have been found only in individual cases by the police or were detained afterwards. This is also due to the fact that not many of the cases reported by the press were announced, as the Leipzig police states.

Police acts at its limits
In the public another reason was discussed: despite the deployment of thousands of officers, the police appeared overwhelmed at the first demonstrations of Legida and Pegida. At this time they did not intervene despite obvious threats or attacks. Some report that this is still the case today for Pegida-demonstrations in Dresden. In Leipzig journalists were attacked and spat on, standing right next to the ranks of riot police. The Leipzig police see this as "inglorious weak point” from which they have learned. But Andreas Loepki, head of press of the police department of Leipzig also says: "We can’t provide personal security to every journalist".

He adds that the defects could not be explained by the re-structuring of personnel to reduce the number of police. This would hardly have had any influence on the current situations. It seems the analysis of Dirk Birgel, editor in chief of the regional paper Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, who had to recognize some massive attacks on his editors, will apply in future: “The people inclined to let their fists rule can be relatively sure to get away with it, as nobody catches them red-handed. Considering the potential for aggression of some individual participants at the demonstration, they are inadequately secured.”

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Expert Interviews:

Helmut Schümannandreas-loepkiMichael Hillervera-lengsfeldandreas-postelMerten Waage

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