A conversation with the president of the European Center for Freedom of the Press and the Media, Lutz Kinkel, who calculates these numbers in a study each year.
Mr. Kinkel, you recorded 83 cases in 2021 – what crimes are we talking about here?
Lutz Kinkle: Most physical attacks on journalists occur during demonstrations. This is the case 75 percent of the time. Above all, we witness that people who are instantly identifiable as journalists are attacked, spit on, kicked, intimidated and humiliated. Unfortunately, this has become a “normal” phenomenon.
Are these cases increasing because more of these protests have occurred in general in the last year, for example the keyword “lateral thinkers”? Or do the participants become more violent?
Kinkel: There are two worrying developments. The number of protests generally increased. The general rule applies: the more protests, the more attacks on journalists. The number also increased due to the presence of many unannounced demonstrations now, such as the so-called “walks”. When this happens, the police are not always on site and therefore cannot protect media workers.
The second problem is that the perpetrators are no longer easy to identify. It was relatively clear who was attacking the press. These were basically right-wing extremists, recognizable by their appearance and behaviour. This is no longer the case today. The vast majority of attacks come from the crowd of protesters. These can also be people who present themselves as middle-class, for example pensioners. This makes it especially dangerous for journalists because they cannot assess the risk in advance.
Is there also a general development that there may be hundreds of thousands of people who do not use violence directly, but that representatives of the press see more and more as the enemy?
Kinkel: We think it has to do with the prevalence of conspiracy stories. There are many plot stories, but one thing they all have in common: building the “journalist” as an enemy. The conspiracies about journalists are that media workers are agents of the regime, that they are accomplices in politics, they publish some narratives and claim that they lie, deceive and ridicule the people. They are the enemies because they do not tell the “truth”. People who stick to conspiracy stories believe they have the truth. That’s why they think this fact is being suppressed, and that’s why they think reporters are enemies.
“Hate on the Doorstep” is the name of this study. Would you say it mainly affects local reporters from next door?
Kinkel: The situation is particularly difficult for the local forces because they cannot avoid it. They can’t dive into hiding their identity in the big city, but they are forced to live with these people and face those who might have attacked them before. This is a heavy psychological burden, and it is only understandable that the job at this level, i.e. at the regional and local level, has also become less attractive for this reason.
Does this also affect reports that affected people no longer wish to report on certain topics?
Kinkel: We cannot make any representations from the data made available to us. But many journalists say they no longer go to demonstrations and no longer cover the protest because it is too dangerous for them and because they are not only threatened, but their families as well. When journalists withdraw from covering this protest, blind spots appear at some point because they are not there for themselves or simply as their medium, but they are there for all of us. They are our eyes and ears.
What can the state do to better protect them?
Kinkel: There are many measures that can be taken on an ad hoc basis. One is to realize that To join the law protecting the role of media and publishers. As for the second measure, it will be, if the Conference of Interior Ministers is able to adopt the management principles for the conduct of interactions between the police and the media. This would essentially relax the relationship between the police and the media more than it has been so far. The third measure is to promote media literacy studies in schools. We think students need to know what is information, what is misinformation, what is a reliable source, and what is a plot narrative. How do I determine this and how do I form an opinion saturated with facts?
Can you go so far as to say that freedom of the press is structurally at risk here as well, because the state does not actively suppress a free press as it does in other countries, but simply does not protect it adequately?
Kinkel: Reporters Without Borders indicated that we have legislation that threatens the protection of sources in Germany. The federal government also uses “Pegasus” – not necessarily against journalists, but the secret services have wide powers. We also have an issue that the federal government has yet to fully implement the whistleblower directive. We hope the federal government will act a little faster on the Anti-SLAPP Directive, a directive from the European Union against misuse of laws that threaten journalists.
led the interview Jan Wiedemann.