German police “shook their heads in disbelief” at the way the events of New Year’s Eve in the city of Dortmund were reported by right wing outlet Breitbart News, it has been reported.
Officials have joined the chorus of condemnation to a Breitbart story – strongly disputed by local journalists – which greatly exaggerated and distorted events on 31 December involving Syrian refugees.
Condemned as "fake news" by some media pundits, the Breitbart article was headlined: “Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany’s oldest church alight on New Year’s Eve.”
However, according to local journalists, there was no mob and the St Reinold Church – which is not Germany’s oldest – did not catch fire.
Local police said the night was “rather average to quiet” and the number of incidents in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve had decreased to 185, down from 421 in 2015/16.
The brief fire on scaffold netting near the church was reportedly caused accidently by a wayward firework.
Despite Breitbart’s exaggerations and lack of a reporter at the scene, the story was shared many thousands of times online, causing anger among some readers.
In response, Justice Minister of Hesse state, Eva Kühne-Hörmann, said: “The danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own,” AFP reported.
The comments follow stinging criticism of the story by the German media, especially from the local newspaper which Breitbart based its own provocative piece on.
Ruhr Nachrichten editor Peter Bandermann said: “Foreign media and users of social networks on the internet used our online reports for fake news, hatred and propaganda.”
He claimed that separate, minor incidents which occurred in the Leeds Square area in the crowd of 1,000 strong revellers – which included families and children – were falsely connected by Breitbart to make them appear to all be part of a disorderly “mob”.
They were not all men chanting "Allahu Akhbar" as claimed by Breitbart, Mr Bandermann said, adding that the phrase was “normal”.
A flag briefly appearing in a video of Mr Bandermann’s embedded in the Breitbart story, showing a group of Syrians celebrating a truce announced in their home country, was depicted by the outlet as being connected to Isis and al-Qaeda.
However, it was actually a flag commonly used by those opposed to the Assad regime and dates back to the days Syrian independence from colonial France in the 1940s.
Another newspaper to condemn the Breitbart story was the Allgemeine Zeitung of Frankfurt, who said the outlet distorted true events to create “an image of chaotic civil war-like conditions in Germany, caused by Islamist aggressors.”
Breitbart has already run into trouble in Germany because of its content. In early December, a number of German companies, including BMW, pulled their advertising from the website because of ethical differences.
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