Media

Halle attack: British media paid too little attention

BY Charlotte Henry   /  11 October 2019

As Jews in Britain, hungry and thirsty after observing the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast, reconnected with the outside world on Wednesday evening, they learned that a heavily armed had attacked a synagogue in Halle, Germany. He managed to kill two people, one outside the synagogue, one at a nearby kebab shop, having failed to gain entry.

Or rather they didn’t learn about this. Not really. Because in the UK the coverage of this attack, one that the German interior minister Horst Seehofer has acknowledged was antisemitic, was minimal. It is true to say there were push alerts on phones when the attack happened, and some coverage online, but on the big, mainstream broadcast and print news, almost nothing.

What little there was disappeared rapidly. (It is worth noting too that if television news did cover the attack in its immediate aftermath Jews would not have seen it. The rules of observance around Yom Kippur prevent turning on devices such as televisions, radios, computers or mobile phones.)

Let us be really clear with what happened in Europe this week. A man equipped with an arsenal of weaponry and, say police, fuelled by far-right hate, turned up at synagogue on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day when he surely knew it would be full of people, and tried to enter in order to kill as many people as possible. On his head he had a camera so that he could live-stream his intended massacre. He thankfully “failed” and “only” managed to kill two people.

Attacks on other religious buildings, for example those motivated by Islamophobia, have rightly garnered a lot of coverage. Think of the horrendous events in New Zealand, for instance, not all that long ago, or closer, to home, at Finsbury Park. We had camera crews, opinion pieces, update reports. And so we should.

However, this attack featured only briefly on the BBC News at 10 on Wednesday night, just above the cancellation of England’s relatively meaningless World Cup rugby game against France.

Frank Gardner and Nick Robinson discussed the issue on the famously highly coveted 6.35am  slot on Thursday on the Today programme the next morning. By the 8am news headlines on that show coverage of the incident had disappeared altogether. The Times covered it as one of the main foreign news stories. Most outlets were more interested in covering a spat between two footballers’ wives.

When I tweeted my dismay at the lack of coverage a number of people asked me what incident I was actually referring to, rather proving the point. I couldn’t help but notice there was not the usual outpouring of social media solidarity that sometimes follows attacks on minority communities either in the wake of Wednesday events either.

This is not about playing tragedy top trumps though. Far-right hate is being fuelled online and rising around the world. It is why attacks on mosques have happened. It is why attacks on black churches have happened. It is why attacks on synagogues have happened. It is why those incidents will continue to happen. The media has a responsibility to expose, highlight and talk about that. All of it. We need to call it out for what it is.

Of course, media outlets may not want to give too much attention to these people, but we cannot ignore what is happening. The fact I can remember more coverage and outcry over the fire at Notre Dame cathedral than this antisemitic attack does, I must confess, leave me cold.

Yes, there is a lot of news right now. US President Donald Trump’s despicable abandonment of the Kurds is rightly is at the top of the new agenda. Then there is Brexit. Of course. But surely this incident warranted more coverage than it got. What is more, when major broadcast news did turn their attention to it, the coverage was fairly poor. For instance, the BBC’s correspondent barely articulated that this was an attack on Jews, nor explained why that was so significant on that particular day of the year.

It is Friday again, and Jews in Halle will no doubt come together to mark the Sabbath and try and comfort each other after what happened. Jews in other parts of Europe will say the same prayers, eat similar food, and wonder if it will be their community next.  The media in Britain needs to ask itself if it is covering these issues in the best possible way, because this week, it failed.


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