PLAYING WITH THE NUMBERS: SPIN FROM ALL SIDES ON THE COLOGNE ATTACKS

cologne cops

(Picture of police at Cologne central station. Photo: DPA)

It’s funny how one statement from a public prosecutor can generate two different narratives in the press.

This is what happened when Ulrich Bremer, prosecutor in the cases related to the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, spoke to the media about the nationality of those arrested.

Speaking to German newspaper Die Welt earlier this month, Mr Bremer revealed that the majority of the suspects are North African (25 Algerian, 21 Moroccan, 3 Tunisian, 1 Libyan). Three are refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq, with a further three German nationals and two other migrants.

This was subsequently reported in the British press by the likes of The Independent and the Huffington Post with an emphasis that only 3 suspects were refugees from Syria or Iraq. Reporting last Monday, The Independent ran with the headline ONLY THREE OUT OF 58 MEN ARRESTED FOR COLOGNE ATTACKS WERE REFUGEES. The Huff went with COLOGNE SEX ATTACKS: ONLY THREE OUT OF 58 MEN ARRESTED ARE REFUGEES, PROSECUTOR REVEALS.

These reports were seemingly to counter earlier articles in other papers that suggested the majority of attackers were Syrian refugees. But both were misleading because nothing had been said in the original Die Welt article about whether or not the North African suspects were refugees.

Mr Bremer was quick to clarify that his information had been misreported. Speaking to German paper The Local on Monday, he said that those claiming that only 3 refugees were involved in the attacks were ‘wrong‘. By this point, 73 individuals were being investigated (12 of them for sex-related offences). This included 30 Moroccans, 27 Algerians and 4 from Iraq.

Mr Bremer was unable to clarify how many of the 73 were asylum-seekers, although he said ‘The vast majority of suspects do not have permission to stay in Germany, but this is for different reasons, encompassing people whose asylum applications haven’t been accepted and illegal immigrants.

Speaking to the Associated Press, he said ‘The overwhelming majority of persons fall into the general category of refugees.

Although The Independent quickly updated their headline to say REFUGEES FROM SYRIA AND IRAQ, the right-wing press were quick to leap upon the errors that had been made.

The Daily Express ran an article titled COLOGNE RAPISTS WERE REFUGEES: PROSECUTOR SLAMS REPORTS EXONERATING MIGRANTS AS ‘NONSENSE’, claiming that ‘supporters of mass migration‘ had twisted the figures. Whereas UKIP mouthpiece Breitbart entitled their piece LEFT MEDIA MIGRANT RAPE COVER UP. Far-right group Britain First also covered the story on their website with the headline COLOGNE RAPISTS WERE REFUGEES.

But these stories were also misleading. To simply state that the attackers were refugees when there seems to be such a lack of clarity surrounding the status of many of them (refused asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants are not refugees) and to refer to them as ‘rapists’ when at present only 12 out of 73 are being charged with sex-related crimes is to draw your own conclusions from incomplete facts.

So it appears that on one side we have those keen to maintain a link between refugees and sexual assault and are doing their best to run with that narrative (although perpetrators of sexual assault come from all ethnic groups and all walks of life, the likes of The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and Breitbart seem to be almost exclusively covering cases that are involving migrants these days).

On the other side we have those who are going out of their way to avoid confronting the uncomfortable fact that on New Year’s Eve in Germany, a large number of migrants including some refugees carried out a series of violent assaults on young women. Finding accurate, unspun reporting on this is likely to take a bit of work. You have been warned.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

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