A young journalist is accused of racism by his employer, the RBB. his offense? He has described one of the most brutal countries in the world as “shithole country”. That’s enough to fall out of favor with the program executives.

On the afternoon of October 18, journalist Jan Karon tweeted that he was first met with angry attacks from the left and then a taunt from his employer.

The tweet read: “Somalia is a shithole country with Stone Age culture. When a migrant from Somalia stabs two people and injures two others, that’s a problem. When this happens 800 meters from your parents in the place where you grew up, that’s shocking.”

A few hours before Karon wrote this, a man in Ludwigshafen attacked passers-by with a kitchen knife and stabbed the bystanders indiscriminately. Karon grew up in Ludwigshafen, in the Oggersheim district. When he saw a drugstore in the photos from the crime scene, where police officers were securing the first evidence, he immediately recognized the Rossmann he used to shop at. That may explain the dismay and choice of words.

It was not long before the first pursuers attached themselves to the young man’s heels. “Here’s a racist disguised as a ‘free reporter’,” wrote the Internet hate and nuisance Nils Gerster (2684 followers), an underemployed political scientist who has shifted to the belated fight against Nazis. Karon may not be a racist, but his tweet is clearly racist, explained the blogger and IT lawyer Thomas Stadler (18443 followers), another (small) size of the left-wing Twitter cosmos.

Shortly before midnight, at a time when others are already too tired or too drunk to speak publicly, the author Jasmina Kuhnke (138091 followers) finally contacted the station for which Karon works. “Hello ARD press and RBB24,” wrote Kuhnke. “You know what a (freelance?) contributor is saying here on Twitter? Doesn’t even Section 130 of the Criminal Code (StGB) apply here? A statement from you would be appropriate here!”

If there’s one country that fits the term shithole, it’s Somalia. According to all the criteria by which civilizational standards are measured, the country is limbo on earth. 98 percent of women are genitally mutilated, practically the entire male population is on drugs. Gays are immediately nailed to the nearest door, and the country occupies one of the very first places in the persecution of Christians. There may be people who still find Karon’s language inappropriate. But is it inflammatory?

Yes, it is, if RBB is to be believed, the ARD station for which Karon creates highly acclaimed reports via a Berlin production company. According to the broadcaster, it is even worse: Anyone who expresses himself like the young reporter (Karon has just turned 30) is guilty of spreading misanthropy.

“We understand and share the criticism of the statements and are in discussion with the production company about possible consequences. We as RBB condemn any form of racism.” This was a statement from the press office twelve hours after Kuhnke had requested a statement. What was previously the opinion of a few Internet rowdies had now reached the rank of a quasi-official verdict.

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I spoke to Karon on the phone. Within a day from a young hope, who has already worked for such progressive media as “Zeit Online” or “Vice”, to a kind of pariah who is hanged by a public institution as a racist – that doesn’t happen every day. You want to know who you’re dealing with.

The films in which Karon plays a prominent role as moderator can be viewed online; they are available in the media library under the heading “Schattenwelten Berlin”. One feature is about dubious housing deals in the capital, another about the rave culture in the city’s underground. The delivery of a new season has been arranged for November.

One would assume that the transmission line would put itself before the employee whose work one adorns oneself with. Or at least ask him what he was thinking when he made his statement before reacting to accusations. Television stations also have a duty of care. But nobody seems to be interested in that at RBB. “We stand by our people” is a phrase that’s great as long as it’s uttered by editors-in-chief on screen. In real life, even the slightest headwind throws the simplest of etiquette out of the window.

All calls for help went unanswered. An SMS to the head of reporting, in which Karon asked the station to stand in front of him, initially went unanswered. “Dear Ute, I don’t know if you’re aware of what’s happening,” he wrote, describing the hostility he was exposed to, including threats of violence. “Against this background, I would politely wish for solidarity.”

Only after the RBB broke the baton about the colleague did a phone call take place. The department head explained that damage had to be averted from the house. The statements about Somalia were controversial, it was about not using right-wing narratives. There were times when “controversial” was a word that still had a good ring to it in the broadcasting center on Masurenallee in Berlin.

There has been a lot of talk about financial management at the head of the RBB in recent weeks. From massage seats for the director, to expensive parquet and incorrectly billed dinners. Everyone can immediately agree that this is a scandal. But I think the cowardice that extends to the highest floors is much more worrying than a few incorrect expense reports. Apparently there are not only shithole countries, but also shithole stations.

What’s the lesson young journalists learn when a broadcast line buckles at the first request? That it pays to be bold in speaking out, taking risks, messing with pressure groups? Rather not. Although, on closer inspection, buckle is the wrong word. That presupposes that there was something like resistance beforehand. People like the head of RBB Reportage don’t even think of opposing the mob because they’ve been lying flat on the ground for a long time.

It would be so easy. One would only have to say: not with us. In this case – as is so often the case – it is not even the case that the press council is standing on its head or that the whole of Twitter Germany is demanding an explanation. As a rule, it is always the same people who make bambules on the Internet when someone violates the language rules they have set. I could easily create a chart of 30 to 40 names of the loudmouths that are always there. But it’s usually not much more than that.

The threat to freedom of expression does not come from activists like Jasmina Kuhnke, who obviously have no better use of their time than digging up and counting supposed enemies late into the night. The real gravediggers of free speech are the people in control who give in out of convenience or opportunism.

On many editorial boards and program floors, they think that accommodating the rioters will dampen the riot. Interestingly, the opposite usually occurs. The more you show understanding, the more they feel encouraged to refill on the other side. These people won’t stop until the victim is on the ground and stops flinching—or, to their surprise, they’re ignored. Then they can’t think of much else apart from a big lament.

That, too, is over quickly. As I said, there are only 30 to 40 people.

• Read all of Jan Fleischhauer’s columns here.

The readers love him or hate him, Jan Fleischhauer is indifferent to the least. You only have to look at the comments on his columns to get an idea of ​​how much people are moved by what he writes. He was at SPIEGEL for 30 years, and at the beginning of August 2019 he switched to FOCUS as a columnist.

Fleischhauer himself sees his task as giving voice to a world view that he believes is underrepresented in the German media. So when in doubt, against the herd instinct, commonplaces and stereotypes. His texts are always amusing – perhaps it is this fact that provokes his opponents the most.

You can write to our author: By email to j.fleischhauer@focus-magazin.de or on Twitter @janfleischhauer.