After the Paris Attacks: Did the German Media Handle Reporting Right?

After the Paris Attacks

Did the German Media Handle Reporting Right?

The attacks in Paris on November 13th were a shock for the German public. Not only because France is a neighboring country, but also because many viewers of the soccer match between Germany and France heard the three suicide bombs near the stadium go off live on TV. Even after the explosions and also after French president François Hollande left the stadium where he was watching the game, German TV kept showing the match. Many netizens ask whether that was the right decision.


It was supposed to be a friendly match. Before the match Mathias Opdenhövel and Mehmet Scholl, who were presenting the football game on the public TV station ARD as usual, seemed excited to be there and all focused on the sport—even though the German national team had been evacuated from their hotel earlier that day because of a bomb threat.

While the game was going on the audience in the stadium and at home heard explosions, which later turned out to be suicide bombers. At the time though, many just assumed that it must have been firecrackers despite the lack of the typical colorful smoke.

When the commentator Tom Bartels mentioned the explosions and being “overwhelmed” as he was expecting to have only to report about football, it became clear that something had happened in Paris. Maybe in order to avoid panic at the stadium, neither in the Stade de France nor via news media was the news broken that there had been terror attacks in Paris already during the first half of the game. Only towards the end news did apps start to send out breaking news alerts about shootings and casualties in Paris. However, already during the game, online rumors, Twitter posts, and periscope videos (Twitter’s live streaming video tool) were spreading the news that something was going on.

In Germany it started a discussion why the TV station ARD continued showing the game and did not switch to a breaking news show. The journalist Stefan Fries comments on the discussion in a blog post:


Twitter gives the impression that there could be many more details shown than the classic media are reporting. …Even if it is a journalist’s job to report, we are not a platform for live pictures from places under attack, where terrorist might even still be. Such pictures …abandon journalistic quality standards: The source (the cameraman, place, maybe the time) cannot be verified, during live streaming, victims could be broadcasted, this way victims could not be protected from the public—(and) unimaginably that terrorists could be viewed live and thus and get an audience and put the cameraman in danger.

Twitter erweckt den Eindruck, es könnten öffentlich schon viel mehr Details über die Ereignisse bekannt sein als klassische Medien…es berichten. (…) Auch wenn es Aufgabe von Journalisten ist, zu berichten, so sind wir dennoch keine Plattform für Live-Bilder von Anschlagsorten, an denen sich womöglich noch Terroristen aufhalten. Derlei Bilder verstoßen … gegen journalistische Qualitätsstandards: Die Quelle (Kameramann, Ort, womöglich auch die Zeit) ist nicht verifizierbar, bei Live-Bildern können auch mögliche Opfer ins Bild geraten, die so nicht vor Öffentlichkeit geschützt werden können – nicht auszudenken, dass Terroristen live zu sehen sind, damit eine Plattform bekommen und den Kamermann gefährden.

Also, the head of the news department of the ARD channel Kai Gniffke defends his way of handling reporting during and after the game:


…I accept the criticism that in the first hour we could have been even better, but I think we were successful in reporting authentically, competently, and above everything else, appropriately all the time. …There has been an intense discussion about whether it was right in the first hour to stay at the football stadium. …I supported (the decision to stay in the stadium) because nowhere else could we have conveyed the city’s shocked state of the mind more authentically than at the stadium in that moment. …

(…) Ich nehme alle Kritik auf, wo man gerade in der ersten Stunde noch besser hätte sein können, aber ich glaube, es ist uns gelungen, authentisch, kompetent und vor alle Dingen jederzeit angemessen darüber zu informieren. (…) Es hat eine sehr intensive Diskussion darüber geben, ob es in der ersten Stunde richtig war, im Fußballstadion zu bleiben…. Ich habe das nachhaltig am Freitagabend unterstützt, denn nirgendwo war, meiner Meinung nach, in diesen Moment authentischer der schockierte Zustand dieser Stadt zu transportieren, als in diesem Stadion. (…)

After the game had ended, the ARD kept coming back to stadium where the German and French national team spent the night. Although the two sport reporters Opedenhövel and Scholl seemed pale, worried and overwhelmed at times, netizen susilove did not mind:


The reporting was—from a journalistic point of view and spoken without irony—pathetic. Especially in the form of a former stadium announcer (Opdenhövel), who now, together with Mehmet Scholl, had to anchor the events. I am glad that it was that way though. Especially because of the calculated media strategy of the terrorists. Other channels immediately—professional as they were—labeled it: “France 9/11”. Thus they transmitted the advertising message of those murderers. With that I did not agree, with the ARD I did.

Die Berichterstattung war – journalistisch gesehen und ohne Ironie gesagt – erbarmungswürdig, vor allem in Gestalt des ehemaligen Stadionsprechers, der nun mit Mehmet Scholl zusammen die Ereignisse moderieren mußte. Ich bin aber froh, daß es so war, eben wegen dem Medienkalkül der Terroristen. Andere Sender haben gleich – professionell wie sie sind – gelabelt: „France 9/11“ und damit die beabsichtigte Werbebotschaft der Mörder transportiert. Damit war ich nicht einverstanden, mit der ARD aber schon.

Another netizen, who posts under the nickname DocKnow on the website of the Berliner newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, said:


Well, it was right to show the game to the end und to stay on site momentarily to show what was happening there. But half an hour after the final whistle it should have ended! Opdenhövel and Scholl did not know what to report and continued to babble cluelessly and forsakenly. The show mutated horribly into 100% pro-terror propaganda. Awful. How can you continually expose such helplessness?

Also es war richtig das Spiel zu Ende zu zeigen und noch einen Moment vor Ort zu bleiben und zu dokumentieren was dort passiert. Eine halbe Stunde nach Abpfiff hätte aber Schluß damit sein müssen! Opdenhövel und Scholl wussten nicht mehr was sie berichten sollen, stammelten ratlos und alleine gelassen vor sich hin, die Sendung mutierte nun entsetzlicher Weise zu 100% pro Terror Propaganda. Schrecklich. Wie kann man nur non stop diese Hilflosigkeit entblößen?

Later on the reporting from the stadium was interrupted now and again by Germany’s best-known news show, Tagesschau. Calm and matter-of-factly, the show gave updates and presented the new developments as they became known and avoided rumors and speculation.

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