According to The Guardian, Tensions rise in Germany over handling of mass sexual assaults in Cologne:

The events have since come to dominate German media, but following a barrage of complaints on social media that the New Year’s Eve events were deliberately under-reported amid fears they would encourage anti-immigrant sentiment, Germany’s public broadcaster, ZDF, was forced to apologise for its decision not to report on the attacks until Tuesday, four days after they had occurred.


Andreas Scheuer of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, accused the media of exercising too much caution and forming a “cartel of silence”.

The same claim can be found in many other places.

We can't prove motivations, but we can measure media coverage and link it to publicly available information:

  • Is it true that the Cologne events were not or almost not reported on in German media until the following Tuesday?
  • Does the start of more significant covering fail to coincide with any significant new information which became available?
  • What sort of evidence would it take to persuade you either way? Is the reported apology not sufficient?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 9:01
  • 1
    @Oddthinking The reported apology covers a single broadcaster taking a single decision. The claim is much broader. Some evidence that persuade me would be images of newspapers or news websites for the days of the year up to the Tuesday, showing there was little to no coverage initially. Or some form of statistics.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 9:03
  • The claim that the decision was deliberate is out of scope, because it can only ever be answered by speculation. I speculate the fact that it occurred during a holiday period meant the media weren't as quick to pick up on the public interest in the story, but I have no idea how that could be proven, because I can't a metric that says demonstrates the number of column inches a story like this over New Years Eve should get.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 9:06
  • @Oddthinking We can in principle measure media coverage on 1, 2, 3, 4 January by counting how many news websites had it prominetly featured, how many newspapers described it on their frontpage or later pages, and how many TV and radio broadcasts opened with it or featured it later. Meanwhile, we can compare officially released information by authorities. Was there a sudden spike in news coverage on Tuesday 4 January? Was there an official press release immediately preceding that, with new information? I'm not asking for evidence that it was deliberate.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 13:45
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    I am not familiar with the news cycles of the Northern Hemisphere, but in Australia, it wouldn't demonstrate the journalists "suddenly woke up", so much as "eventually sobered up, and returned to work after the Christmas/New Year holidays". Social media was rife with stories about "look what the Government published on Christmas Eve, so it wouldn't make the papers", just like every year.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


Let's check some of the websites of reputable German media outlets:

  • Welt (reputable conservative newspaper) reported first about the issue at January 4th.
  • Spiegel Online (a central-left media outlet) reported it January 4th
  • TAZ (a very left-wing media outlet) reported it January 4th.
  • WDR (public-broadcasting institution based in the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia with its main office in Cologne) reported it January 4th.

So no, the issue was widely reported the next Monday. The event which started the reporting appears to be the press conference by the police of Cologne at January 4th where the topic was on the agenda. ZDF ignoring the issue until Tuesday was a lapse by a single media outlet.

One reason for the delayed news reporting might be that the police of Cologne itself reported on January 1st that the situation in Cologne during new year's eve celebrations was calm. Whether this was out of malice, incompetence or a mix of both is still a matter of debate, but nevertheless they got quite a lot of flak from various politicians for this. Official press releases are usually the main information source for the mainstream media, so when an information which contradicts official information gets publicized solely through social media, the reaction can be delayed. Although to be fair it has to be mentioned that there were press releases by the police which mentioned the incidents on january 2nd and 3rd.

Another factor which might have distracted media attention was that there was a terror warning at new year's eve in Munich which resulted in quite a hysteria and was considered the more important event at that time.

  • 2
    Might be worth actually looking into what was reported. You can under report just as easily by mentioning an event but minimizing it.
    – Jonathon
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 4:09
  • 3
    @JonathonWisnoski If you want to know, the articles all write basically the same thing which is likely what the police said: 60 cases of charges for sexual harassment and/or robbery, but likely more. The number of charges which were reported increased in the following days, but I would consider it quite likely that the media attention created a bandwagon effect which caused a large number of victims to press charges who didn't do so before.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 17:49
  • And also it's a matter of degree of coverage. The coverage should be compared to Smollett, Covington, etc.. If Smollett and Covington was wall-to-wall coverage and Cologne attack was just mentioned - then yes it was under reported. The Smollett and Covington cases are examples - it really ought to be compared to things that took place in the same in 2016.
    – Mayo
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 20:38

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