No, Deutsche Welle, that half-hearted apology just won’t cut it

In response to the outcry against its latest coverage of Hungary, DW offers a lame and completely unacceptable response. It’s not simply that they seemed to forget who was responsible for the Holocaust, they ran roughshod over our national heritage and completely misrepresented the life of the Jewish community in Hungary.

When the boss at German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle announced three weeks ago that his channel would be launching Hungarian-language programming, we knew we’d be in for a treat, especially when Peter Limbourg promised that would bring us unfortunate Hungarians “real stories.” Nevertheless, we were a little taken aback when a DW crew turned out a video from Budapest recently under the title “Orbán’s Nostalgia,” (they have since changed the title to “Orban is rebuilding Budapest”) about the renovations in the capital’s historic Castle District and central Kossuth Square.

(A few days later, by the way, DW’s sister channel ZDF aired a piece similarly filled with agenda-driven, biased reporting on poverty in Hungary. I wrote about that story here.)

In the “Orbán’s Nostalgia” video, producers strained to draw an odd connection between the renovations and the Hungarian government’s alleged “extreme nationalism,” our alleged nostalgia for 1944, and attempt to recall an era of Jewish persecution, which, according to DW, is still stirring fear among Jewish residents.

In a blog post last week, I called attention to the bizarre irony of German state media coming to Budapest to produce a story criticizing the Hungarian government for restoring national heritage sites that were destroyed in World War II. I also highlighted that they used no sources whatsoever that represent the other side of the story and have done nothing to address the Orbán Government’s steps to combat anti-Semitism, penalize hate speech, promote Holocaust education in schools and support Hungary’s Jewish community, just to mention a few.

I, however, was not alone in my criticism of DW’s slanted coverage. The Association of Buda Castle Residents (Budavári Lakosok Szövetsége), an organization of locals, sent a letter to Deutsche Welle asking them to fix the many problems with the video, mainly that it’s entirely based on false historical references and completely misrepresents the ongoing renovation work in an area that is, by the way, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The official response from Deutsche Welle? Instead of correcting the many factual errors in the video (or taking the video down altogether), the German state broadcaster included the following editorial note above the video along with a message that they “did not intend to represent historical correlations in an ambiguous manner”:

“The historical reference in this report has caused concern for some viewers. We would like to make it clear: Nazi Germany is responsible for the enforced transportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews. We apologize if the report created a different impression and appeared one-sided.”

“Ambiguous?” “Created a different impression?” No, I think the video created exactly the impression that the creators had intended and, once again, shed a bad light on the Hungarian government and our national heritage in a propaganda piece that lacks any factual basis.

I can only agree with the Buda Castle neighborhood organization in telling DW that “the only acceptable solution for the situation is to remove the video, as there are no excuses for falsifying history and spreading lies.”

And by the way — let’s not forget that, for the moment, the story continues to be available online. If they’re going to leave it up, they owe us all a more satisfactory apology.