Government council examines action against media after police acquittal

The reporting on a police operation in Bern in June 2021 may have repercussions. Bern's cantonal government is prepared to examine how "injustices committed in the media" can be clarified and redressed.

Dissatisfied with two Bernese newspapers: Security Director Philippe Müller (FDP). (Archive image: Keystone/Peter Schneider)

He intends to accept a proposal from the EDU, SVP, FDP and Center Party as a directive motion. This is clear from his response published on Monday.

During a police check in Bern in June 2021, an unruly man was led to the ground so that he could be handcuffed. Journalists who happened to be present from Bernese Newspaper and Confederation brought the case to public attention.

The police officer who led the man to the ground was acquitted of charges of abuse of authority and assault in September 2023. According to the Keystone-SDA news agency, the judgment of the regional court is now legally binding.

"Unprecedented media campaign"

The petitioners accuse the newspapers of putting the case on the same level as the killing of George Floyd by a US policeman who pressed his knee on the victim's neck for almost ten minutes.

The motion speaks of an "unprecedented media campaign" in which a police officer was prejudged - "demonstrably against the editors' better judgment". The man was also condemned as a murderer in online comments.

The government council should clarify why the editorial team did not adjust the presentation even after the intervention of a forensic doctor. A complaint and a claim for damages and compensation should also be examined.

Government sees need for clarification

In its response, the Government Council reiterates the criticism of the media that Security Director Philippe Müller (FDP) had already voiced last fall. The newspapers had lacked the necessary professional diligence by withholding essential information and available clarifying images. The police's explanations had been abridged and differentiated expert opinions had been suppressed or simplified.

The uncritical publication of online comments that violate personal rights or are obviously false is also incomprehensible. The Government Council is therefore prepared to clarify the points raised by the petitioners.

Newspapers reject accusations

The editors-in-chief of BZ and Confederation once again rejected the accusations on Monday. In particular, it was not true that the editorial team had made any allegations "demonstrably against their better judgment". This is false and damaging to the company's reputation, according to a statement provided to Keystone-SDA.

On the contrary, the media representatives had "correctly and precisely disclosed what they had observed". Furthermore, in an article published a few days after the incident, the editors mentioned that the knee fixation in the Bern case had lasted less time than in the Floyd case.

There could be no question of prejudging the police officer. The media representatives had never claimed that the man had committed a criminal offense. Due to the freedom of the media, it is permissible to report on problematic facts even if there has not yet been a final judgment - and even if an accused person is later acquitted.

It was true that some online comments had been activated in which the police action had been linked to murder and manslaughter. "We have since removed these comments. We apologize for the fact that such comments were published at the time." (SDA)

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