Is the ethnicity of suspects relevant for readers?

Ever since the events of New Year's Eve in Cologne the German media has been discussing whether the nationality or religion of suspects should be mentioned in news coverage. No, the German Press Council has now concluded – or only if the information is directly related to the topic. Is this guideline helpful?

Open/close all quotes
taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Journalists must examine each case

Several media outlets have already announced that they will ignore the guidelines laid out in the press code. Clearly their editors don't care about the consequences of their work, the left-leaning daily taz criticises:

“They are using a false argument: at a time when rumours spread through the social media faster than they can be officially confirmed, it is a journalist's duty to publish everything so as to counter public distrust of the media, they say. Of course journalists must follow up on rumours. But they must also decide in each individual case whether an offender's nationality is of public interest. Every media outlet, including the tabloids, bears a journalistic responsibility - particularly at a time when homes for asylum seekers are burning. Fulfilling that responsibility is simply part of the job. And ultimately that's what distinguishes them from Twitter and Facebook.” (DE) /

Update the press code

It's not easy for journalists to find a way to carry out adequate reporting, Kai Gniffke writes on the website of the public broadcaster

“The press code warns us that mentioning a suspect's ethnicity could fuel prejudice against minorities. Doesn't that express a certain mistrust of readers and users? ... A little, at least. That's the dilemma we journalists face. And yet it is right that the German Press Council has not done away with this basic principle. ... Nevertheless I would have liked to see an amendment to the press code that deals with the tension between the credibility of the media and the principle of not naming the ethnicity of suspects. Such a sentence would not have deprived any news desk of the right to make its own decisions, but it would have ensured that the press code is up to date with the reality of the social media.”