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Ekaterina Quehl: How ARD and Co. stir up corona fear with photo trickery.

Written by Ekaterina Quehl for

When I was a child, my parents told me that I shouldn't believe everything I read in the newspaper. I never thought that 30 years later in distant Germany it would be so up to date again. But first things first...

The news of the past few weeks has impressed me more and more with their efforts to spread excitement and panic about the corona pandemic. The scandals surrounding the Tönnies and Wiesenhof meat factories, the outbreaks of corona in kindergartens and outdoor parties in Berlin should obviously always remind us that the pandemic is not over, that it is terrible and that we can only protect ourselves if we can very well wear our masks, spend our vacation at home and best limit our social life to a minimum.

Manipulation and framing are the instruments in today's media landscape to spread panic and stir up fear. Unfortunately, you have already got used to it. But the boldness with which the events of the last weekend at Ballermann in Mallorca twisted, even falsified - and this especially from the public law - could even exceed the Pravda reporting in the Soviet Union of my childhood. And the more I immersed myself in the subject, the more incredible I discovered.

After almost all German mainstream media outraged how hundreds of holidaymakers from Germany celebrated at Ballermann parties last weekend without adhering to distance rules and mask requirements, the Balearic government responded with the two-month closure of all restaurants on the Ballermann party mile and the launch of severe penalties for violating current prohibitions. The media echo is currently so strong and so negative that even vacationers' voices are ignored. Some reported that things turned out differently and that the photos that the media publish may not have come from this year. "A lot of camera teams have been there in the past few days. They specifically approached groups of people and asked them to stand up and raise their arms," quotes the allegations of a 38-year-old vacationer to

It is conceivable that things could have turned out differently, I thought. But I couldn't imagine that photos from this year will not be used in the reporting.

Even the photo of a current article in the Augsburger Allgemeine, which a reader of sent from the region, is not yet the tip of the iceberg of what I came across during my research. But one by one.

In the picture for the newspaper article you can see some young men sitting on a street and obviously drinking (alcohol?) from buckets with straws. They neither adhere to the distance rules nor wear the face mask. The reader who sent the photo wrote that the photo is probably not from 2020 because it has been prohibited to drink from buckets on beaches and boulevards for several years. In addition, the men's haircuts are no longer modern - the reader is a specialist and can assess this because he is a hairdresser. After reading this article, a reader found out that the photo had actually been used in 2013 - see PS below).

That's a thing that is manipulated with photos like this, I thought to myself, and when I did further research I came across a photo that I had seen in several media. In the photo you can see some men with their backs to the photographer. Two are dressed, two half naked. In an obvious celebration mood, they are very close to each other, one holding his arms raised. Several long straws can be seen in the foreground.

If the photo were up-to-date, this could be seen as confirmation of the reports about the current “party disaster” on the Ballermann and the outrage of the media.

Unfortunately, the photo dates back to at least 2019. It didn't take me half an hour to find the confirmation. But even that is not the most impressive find. The fact that betrayed itself is what has knocked me off my feet in the whole story.

The two screenshots below show how uses the image described above in two reports. Both reports are about Mallorca parties. But one dates from December 2019, long before the corona pandemic. "Mallorca fights against 'ballermannization'" is the title of the article dated December 11, 2019.

In the report from July 11th, 2020 "Dissatisfaction with celebrating Mallorca vacationers", uses exactly the same picture as in the report from December 11th, 2019. The report states: "According to media reports, hundreds of German tourists are said to have celebrated on Saturday night in Mallorca - without adhering to the applicable corona rules."

Who do you think your readers, dear reporters of, are to mislead you with such image manipulations?

The photo, which dates back to at least 2019, is also used by other media, such as the General-Anzeiger in the article "Ballermann party without masks and distance shocked Mallorca" from July 11, 2020 (see also above) and in the article "Mallorca shocked: German party vacationers whistle on Corona measures" from 11.07.2020.

Interestingly, the Stuttgarter Zeitung also uses this photo in its report on Mallorca. And it even dates from the time of the corona pandemic, but unfortunately from April 2020, long before the previous weekend.

Focus also misleads its readers:

I also find the media's attempts to confirm the authenticity of the reporting impressive with various measures. For example, in their article “Conspiracy Theories on Ballermann” from July 17, 2020, Die Zeit attempted to clear up any doubts about the authentic coverage of parties in Mallorca last weekend. The author of the article even dares to make a comparison with the riots in Stuttgart: “Therefore, the conspiracy rumor persists that the uninhibited young people only started their corona party riot (...) after professional camera teams told them to do so. In the meantime, Germans have also been asked what they think of the closing of the party bars in Mallorca. According to a survey by the YouGov institute, 63% consider the closure to be "appropriate" and another 14% consider it to be "rather appropriate".

The boldness of simply taking the wrong photos from the media and not reporting how they actually went is astonishing. Especially when you consider that such reporting is the basis on which important government decisions are made in several countries. And I wonder what restrictions these governments can put in place. In addition to the Spanish government's existing bans, which are likely to have devastating consequences for the economy, the announcement of possible control measures by the German health minister Spahn, such as the introduction of the two-week quarantine for those returning from Mallorca.

I have long noticed that reporting in Germany has undergone a massive change in recent years, and particularly in recent months. But that this change has already been accomplished to such an extent that the proximity to Soviet Pravda can no longer be overlooked and that I should follow my parents' advice, which I mentioned at the beginning of the article, in today's (still) democratic Germany , I would not have thought.

I know that editorial offices often illustrate current reports with archive or symbol images. And of course that's fine as long as it's not relevant and it is pointed out that the images are not current or symbolic. Without this hint and in the way, as in this case, the use of such old pictures is nothing more than a manipulation. Even a brazen one.

I would like to add a comment from a reader on twitter/  as an addendum. The reader comments on my post as follows:
"I was back + shocked from Mallorca. How the media # ard # zdf (partly without self-research) ... a two-hour! Misbehavior of a few stupid people, in ONE day, puffing up, provided with falsified / old pictures and doing # sensation journalism is incredible . "
Another reader on twitter/ posted a note on Der Spiegel article "Mallorca prohibits drinking binge in front of Ballermann" from 01.07.2013 , in which the same photo is used by Augsburger Allgemeine (see above) and sent to

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