When in doubt, blame the immigrants

Biased reporting on refugees and immigrants is spreading across European media. In a recent example, fearmongering and xenophobia, paired with sloppy reporting, resulted in a downright false story about “murderous migrants”.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
When in doubt, blame the immigrants - NewsMavens
Immigrants. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

migration, media

On November 18, Igor Stanković, a young man from Croatia, went missing in Frankfurt. His sister published a Facebook post on November 21, asking for information on his whereabouts. Two days later, she posted again, stating that he was found alive but shared no information on his condition.

“Fenix Magazin”, a Croatian online portal run from Frankfurt, followed the story from the beginning. A day after Stankovć was found, they reported that he was in a coma and followed that information with an unsubstantiated claim that his critical condition might have been a result of an attack by a group of eight young man “of North African and Southeast European origin”. They further wrote:

The Frankfurt police announced today that 5,000 euro will be granted to anyone, who can provide information leading to the perpetrator of a severe beating. The 22-year-old victim is in a coma.

According to a police report, the man was attacked by a group of 8 men, aged 16-25, of North African and Southeast European origin, who had dark hair and wore black clothes. The main suspect is 180-185 cm tall, aged 16-20, dark-haired, with a narrow face. 

The description was followed by a disclaimer that read:

The police report doesn’t confirm that the suspects described above were in fact the attackers of the Croat Igor Stanković. However, the similarities between the two events -- which happened at the same time, in comparable circumstances -- point to the possible conclusion that the man in question is, indeed, Stanković.

Except that, according to the police, the victim of the described attack is 22 years old, while Stanković is 21.

The same speculations, identical in wording, were repeated in other articles that followed -- one on Igor’s condition which was critical, as reported by his father on November 28, 2017; another one, published about a month later, on the grieving poem posted on his sister’s Facebook profile, implying that Igor has passed away.

When these claims were first published, the story immediately got picked up by other media and thus personal tragedy was turned into a xenophobic, anti-immigrant narrative and a prime example of everything that’s wrong with “copy/paste journalism”.

“THE MISSING CROAT FOUND IN FRANKFURT -- Beaten up by asylum seekers, is he in a coma?! ”, a Croatian tabloid “Dnevno” read.  

“Igor Stanković, a Croat attacked by immigrants, dies in Frankfurt”, reported “Max portal”, also based in Croatia.

Similar headlines popped up all over the region:  “MIGRANTS BEAT A CROAT (21) TO DEATH IN GERMANY -- Grief-stricken sister says goodbye to her brother in emotional lyrics!” (“Kurir” and “Moj kutak”, Serbia); “Brutally beaten Croat from Mainz dies. Do the culprits come from North Africa?” (“Večernji list”, Croatia).

Bosnian portal “Avaz” held back on the “immigrant culprits” but took it for a fact that Igor was beaten to death and that there is an award for information on the attacker(s), as did several other media.

The story reached us through a message from our reader. Pasting a link to one of these articles, she simply asked “Can you check the accuracy of this news?”. And we did, unlike the portals mentioned above.

“Your information is false”, the Frankfurt police department replied, shortly after we asked how much of what the media had published was true. It turned out that there was an incident similar to the one described, but it had nothing to do with Igor Stanković.

Moreover, there was no indication -- let alone evidence -- that Igor’s critical condition was a result of an attack at all. Since he wasn’t a victim of a crime, the police had no further information on his condition after he was released to his father’s care.

The two separate cases, which happen to have occured at the same time, were, thus, linked together in a speculative guess of one online portal; taken as a fact by several others, and turned into yet another “record of violent immigrants” without anyone bothering to check the information, or confirm it with official sources. And, if it didn’t happen to catch the eye of one of our readers, it would have still remained an undisputed “fact” today.

Details from the story:

  • A young man from Croatia, who lived and worked in Frankfurt, went missing in November and was found, in a critical condition, days later. He passed away in late December. 
  • The only information which his father made public about the cause of his condition, did not mention any violent attack. He said that his son was found unconscious on a park bench and that his condition was suspected to have been caused by vomiting while laying on his back.
  • Nevertheless, an online portal based in Frankfurt linked the incident to an unrelated police report describing a fight involving "persons of North African and South European origin". 
  • Their speculation, published with a fairly clear note that it wasn't confirmed by the police, was presented as a fact by several online media, who republished the statement. Some have completely omitted the disclaimer which mentioned that there is no certain link between the two events.
  • In late December, “Raskrinkavanje” received a request from a reader to fact-check one of such articles. The claims about “migrant attackers” turned out to be completely false.
  • We published the analysis on January 8, 2018. To the best of our knowledge, none of the portals have yet retracted the false information.
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