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Germany’s public broadcaster ARD came under fire on Tuesday, accused of having ignored a rape-murder case in which an Afghan refugee is the top suspect for fear of fuelling anti-migrant sentiment. The top-ranking evening news programme, Tagesschau, had on Saturday decided not to report on the arrest of the 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker over the alleged killing of a 19-year-old medical student named as Maria L.
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Responding to a wave of online criticism, ARD chief news editor Kai Gniffke said that the national edition of the programme reports “very rarely on individual criminal cases” and focuses mainly on “events of societal, national or international relevance”. But the programme found itself at the centre of a social media storm, widely accused as deliberately ignoring the crime in an effort to be “politically correct” and because it cast a negative light on the government’s liberal migrant policy.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has earned both respect and harsh criticism for her government’s policy of allowing almost 900,000 refugees and migrants into the country last year, with another 300,000 expected for all of 2016. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party –which has campaigned angrily against the migrant influx, Islam, Merkel and what it calls the “liar-press” — labelled ARD’s explanations “ridiculous”.
Lawmaker Ansgar Heveling, of Merkel’s conservative party, also said the Tagesschau was “wrong because it gave the impression it did not want to report the case because the suspect is an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker”. “Creating such an impression is terrible,” added Heveling, a media expert and chairman of the parliamentary internal affairs committee.
In the end, ARD did report on the case when it asked Merkel about it in an interview late Tuesday. Merkel said that while any murder is to be condemned, the crime should not be used to target “an entire group”. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel earlier also argued the murder should not be used to whip up hatred against all refugees. “Such horrible murders happened before the first Afghan or Syrian refugee arrived here,” Gabriel told the Bild newspaper. “We will not allow incitement after such violent crimes, no matter who commits them.”
German newspapers and broadcasters were sharply criticised at the start of the year for being days late in reporting on sexual assaults against hundreds of women, blamed mostly on Arab and North African men, at New Year’s festivities in Cologne.