By Santiago Vera García
The right-wing Greek government accused the German left-wing government of using the newsmagazine to publish false reports including allegations about the alleged death of a Syrian girl on the Greek border.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel, the country’s largest publication, had to retract last Friday a series of false reports it had been publishing about the immigration situation in Greece. These reports contained incorrect and completely fabricated information about the alleged death of a Syrian girl on an island in the Evros River, which separates Turkey and Greece.
In one of the articles, the German magazine had blamed the Greek authorities for the death of a five-year-old Syrian girl, who was allegedly refused assistance along with the migrants stranded on the small island.
Der Spiegel cited Turkish sources to allege that the Greek government could have prevented the girl’s death by taking a different approach to immigration and taking different measures to quickly rescue the 38 stranded refugees.
“As a result of the lack of assistance, even a five-year-old Syrian girl died. Spiegel saw in the girl a symbolic figure of the suffering of refugees at the external borders of the European Union and presented this accordingly in his reports,” the magazine said in the now-retracted note.
Greece’s government, led by right-wing Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a fervent opponent of illegal immigration who wants to promote the European Union, has accused Germany’s government, led by socialist Olaf Scholz, of using his country’s top magazine for a press operation against Greek immigration policy.
Der Spiegel published three lengthy paper reports and an entire show on its podcast about the situation. They all had to be retracted after the Greek Migration and Asylum Minister, Notis Mitarakis, wrote a letter to the editor-in-chief of the German magazine and to Channel 4, asking for a retraction, presenting evidence that the migrants in question had not been in Greek territory and that no one had died
“Greece has been unfairly criticized and its reputation has been tarnished. The government reiterates that the accusations that the 38 migrants were on Greek territory are false,” Mitarakis noted in his letter.
In the letter, the Greek official presented a report by the NGO HumanRights360, which legally represents the group of 38 migrants before the European Court of Human Rights, where it admits that the islet where the migrants are located is within Turkish territory.
In addition, it included official reports from the Hellenic Police, the Hellenic Armed Forces and the Greek government where they point out with maps and cartographic arguments that the islet is located in Turkish territory, and by international law it is their responsibility to accept them.
“If we had acted, Greece would have violated the Turkish border,” he said in the letter. Regarding the reports that provide evidence that “make it clear from the facts and the available photographic material that has been collected that there is no evidence of the existence of a missing child or a dead child.”
Der Spiegel relied on testimony before the European Court of Human Rights concerning four male children who had been shipwrecked. They are all alive and were admitted to Greece. “There is no report of any fifth girl, and no fifth boy appears in any of the photos, either they misunderstood the testimony or it was on purpose to fabricate a narrative about the Greek government that doesn’t exist,” the official said.
A German Ombudsman also launched an investigation into Der Spiegel’s reporting after a reader complaint and found the report to be factually incorrect.
“The Ombudsman evaluated numerous internal documents, videos and photos with metadata, chat logs, emails, audio files, satellite recordings, and other documents, spoke to many people involved, and came to the conclusion that we really made mistakes,” assured the magazine in the retraction this Friday.
NOTIS MITARAKIS, MINISTER OF MIGRATION AND ASYLUM OF GREECE
“We did not correctly describe the situation in our article,” Der Spiegel agreed, following a detailed description of the steps it had taken. Der Spiegel should have formulated the reports on the whereabouts of the refugees and, above all, the death of the girl “with much more care,” he added.
In addition, he justified the total removal of the notes from his website. “We will no longer put the previous articles on the Maria case on the online site, not even in a revised version. Too much of it needs to be corrected“, they assured.
It is also suspected that the German government and Der Spiegel magazine worked on these reports with members of SYRIZA, the Greek socialist party opposed to Mitsotakis. Greek Citizen Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos said SYRIZA should apologize for mentioning the false reports in a recent parliamentary session.
The German magazine claims to be the most reliable source in Germany and is even used by Facebook and Google to fact-check various publications, but this is not the first time that Der Spiegel has been caught participating in false news reporting in the last years.
The most notorious case of fake news involving the magazine came in 2018, when reporter Claas Relotius was revealed to have distorted or outright fabricated stories about Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia, stories that earned him a journalism award from CNN, which also had to be retracted.
With information from La Derecha Diario