On Saturday evening, Russian state television's "Channel One" aired a hair-raising story during its main news segment. The story claimed that a 13-year-old girl with Russian roots was abducted by immigrants in Berlin, at which point she was sped off to an apartment by car where she was repeatedly raped for days. A woman, identified simply as the "victim's aunt," recounted gruesome details. Neither the girl, nor her parents were interviewed. Instead, several Russians living in Berlin were allowed to vent their anger on air: "If that's true we will answer violence with violence," threatened one man. Another man, identified as the "victim's uncle," claimed that the police were protecting the perpetrators.
In a statement this weekend, police told DW that the claims being made in the Russian media were unfounded. A police spokeswoman said that there had been neither an abduction, nor a rape. Police reiterated their denial on Monday. In a press statement, they said that a young girl had been reported missing in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf neighborhood of Berlin, but that she had shown up again later.
News without research
Russian television cited the relatively unknown internet portal "genosse.su," which describes itself as a "Soviet-German page," as the source for the story. The site is devoted, above all, to the lives of German-Russians, and represents the Berlin-based organization, "International Convention of German-Russians." The organization has in turn promised its support for a January 23 protest rally put together by "a number of German-Russians." Participants want to protest "against violence" at a rally in front of the Chancellor's Office.
Such news stories apparently fall on fertile ground with some viewers, with the topic being hotly discussed on social media. Russian state media has been reporting on the refugee crisis in Germany for months, painting a bleak, if not apocalyptic, picture all the while. When it became known that refugees were apparently involved in sexually abusing women on New Year's Eve in Cologne, the information was presented as a validation of such dark fears. Not just ordinary citizens, but also many experts in Russia are convinced that the refugee crisis will be the end of Germany and of Europe.
Roughly six million people with Russian or Soviet roots currently live in Germany, and they watch Russian television. Thus far, there have been no scientific studies on their attitudes toward refugees. But the fact of the matter is that some of the Russians living here have been voicing strong antipathy toward immigrants online, especially since the events in Cologne. However, Russian author Vladimir Kaminer, who lives in Berlin, does not believe that Russians are especially critical of immigrants in Germany. "Yes, Russians living in Germany watch Russian television," the Russian-born writer told DW, "but they always have an alternative. They can just walk out onto the street to see and hear what the German media are reporting."
News as fiction
Channel One's Berlin rape case report was similar to a number of utterly, or predominantly, falsified stories carried by Russian media outlets during the Ukraine conflict. The most prominent example of these was the story of "the crucified boy." In July 2014, Channel One reported that Ukrainian soldiers had nailed a three-year-old boy to a board, "like Jesus." Later, the station admitted that it had not verified the story of an "eyewitness" before running it. Nevertheless, they never offered an apology.
The London-based publisher and media expert Peter Pomerantsev says that what Channel One produces is not actually news. "I don't believe Channel One is interested in facts," Pomerantsev told DW, "What the Russians are doing is more like genre filmmaking, it's a kind of cinema." The main theme of this cinema is the demise of Europe: "That is an extremely important theme, because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's power is based on the concept that there is no alternative: Things are bad at home, but they are bad everywhere."
Pomerantsev believes that stories like the one on the young girl in Berlin are made primarily to present Europe as unattractive to a Russian audience. Vladimir Kaminer in Berlin sees things similarly. "I think that this story was made for internal use, in order to show Russian citizens how 'horrifying' life in Europe is," says the Russian author. "We always get the worst news out of Germany from Russia,"said Kaminer sarcastically.