Television reporter Britta Hilpert was astonished to be jostled and surrounded as she tried to report on a demo in Germany. Figures show reporters increasingly being prevented from doing their job, sometimes violently.
Though she is well aware of the dangers faced by journalists across the globe, ZDF reporter Britta Hilpert was shocked to be prevented from doing her job in Germany.
Hilpert, a TV journalist who also sits on the board of the German branch of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, was pushed and surrounded as she tried to interview a protester in the eastern town of Cottbus, Brandenburg.
The trouble began when Hilpert, who was accompanied by her crew, was at a rally of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which campaigns against the euro and immigration.
A demonstrator from behind began to interrupt an interview Hilpert was conducting, pushing away her microphone. Meanwhile the whole crowd began to chant "Lügenpresse" (lying press) - a label that the populist right and extreme right has given to mainstream media.
"It started stupidly," Hilpert said. "The guy who pushed away my microphone, he wasn't involved in the interview. I was asking a lady who had started her answer so she was giving her opinion. By pushing away my microphone, this guy was not only breaching the right for free reporting, but also he was breaching the right of this lady to voice her opinion."
The camera lens was pushed away as Hilpert was surrounded by several AfD demonstrators before police intervened. "I was starting to get scared," she said. "I was never happier to have the police on my side."
"There was a general feeling that they could do this sort of thing," Hilpert added. "A lot of people thought it was okay to push and shove and threaten a journalist."
Local AfD representative Marianne Spring later urged the crowd to refrain from violence, only to be booed.
"I joined Reporters Without Borders when I was working in Russia, a country where freedom of the press is fiercely under threat," Hilpert said. "I felt I had to join to ensure the rights of journalists in countries who aren't as lucky as we are in Germany. To be attacked in Germany while reporting on a public demonstration is just bizarre - and it's very, very sad."
Blaming the press
On Friday, Alexander Gauland, AfD's deputy federal spokesman, said he had apologized to Hilpert. However, he also said there was a reason why some people felt antipathy toward state-funded broadcasters such as ARD and ZDF and their approach to topics such as refugees.
"We must first ask, why are people against public television?" Gauland told the ZDF program Morgenmagazin. "One can clearly say that these people who take to the street don't want to see and hear this 'Welcome' television that is sometimes shown, especially on ARD and ZDF."
Gauland said he did not condone the protesters' confrontational approach: "I find it wrong, but one must see that these are resentful of a lot of what they see because they think they are not represented on television."
Among the accusations leveled against the media is the contention that reports are one-sided, said Hendrik Zörner, of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV). "They accuse the media of approving of Germany's welcoming approach," Zörner said.
"That really is nonsense," Zörner added. "It is being reported in a comprehensive and, above all, complex and multilayered way." Zörner pointed to numerous reports about the problems faced by communities that had taken in refugees as evidence of balance. Despite this, he said, the situation is increasingly fraught.
Assaults on press
This week, the DJV announced that 22 journalists had reported assaults so far this year, compared with 12 in the whole of 2014. Reporters Without Borders in Germany, meanwhile, spoke of there being "no more taboos" about attacking journalists.
Incidents often go further than jostling and pushing, with Dresden, in the state of Saxony, a particular hotspot.
During a protest by the anti-immigration group PEGIDA at the end of September, Zörner said, a journalist from the radio station MDR was punched. Another reporter, from a local newspaper, was kicked. On PEGIDA'S one-year anniversary in October,DW's Jaafar Abdul Karim was also attacked
"I don't think it's just about journalists. I suspect that it's the whole political community," Zörner said. "It's about the prejudice against refugees and the pictures of refugees in the media that we have seen on an everyday basis for several weeks. All of this appears to have led to a situation where the feeling against immigrants has become increasingly radical and the threshold for violence is very much lower."
Though Zörner thinks authorities could do more to protect journalists in Dresden, Hilpert would prefer to take her own precautions over in Brandenburg.
"I think the police did very well on that day and there is not much more they could do, or that I would want them to do," Hilpert said. "I don't want to cover a demonstration while a policeman or even two are standing next to me at all times."
"I don't want to be an embedded journalist," Hilpert said. "I am not an opponent. I am a bystander, I am an onlooker, I am somebody who asks questions and I must be allowed to do this. If they don't allow me to do this, then in my eyes they are not democrats."
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