A story about the removal of schweinefleisch from two German kindergartens fed fears of “Islamisation” – but was it even news?
This being a nation of sausage-savants, there was an uproar. It’s cultural subjugation, far-right politicians whined. Political correctness gone mad, their centre-right colleagues moaned. “If my grandson was at that kindergarten, I’d feed him pork chops every day, as a matter of principle,” one angry German nana, who clearly didn’t care much for good nutrition, ranted on social media.
Bild was accused of fomenting racism and police were dispatched to the playcentres. Those who supported a kindergarten’s God-given right to serve whatever it wanted were also vocal. “Eating a cheese sandwich right now. Is that okay or Islamisation?” tweeted a journalist from news magazine Der Spiegel. A bunch of left-wingers couriered a package of pork to Bild, with a note telling staff to “enjoy yourselves and leave the kids alone, okay?”
Some of the best jokes came when a member of the youth wing of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party posted a picture of a (suspected) fried fish on Facebook, arguing that all children should enjoy the delicious taste of schnitzel. Critics were quick to point out that culturally correct schnitzel is made with veal, not pork or fish.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #Schweinefleisch (in English, #pork) was trending hard on German social media, overshadowing all other events. Never mind that the UK looked as if it might go to war with Iran. All Germany cared about was preschool pork prohibition.
And that’s why it was depressing. #Schweinefleisch happened the same week that UK communications regulator Ofcom announced that most young people now watch only two minutes of TV news a day. They get more information from Facebook and are therefore more willing to get involved in virulent debates such as the one about sausage. Similar patterns are developing in other countries, including New Zealand.
For me, as a journalist, that stings. The sausage scandal makes you wonder whether, in an era of extreme opinions, fake news, filter bubbles, conspiracy theories and politicians who lie so shamelessly, information is still power. Does anybody even care about “normal” stories any more, the ones that don’t go viral, but attempt to present a complex yet often also mundane reality instead?
Last month, in Germany, did anybody even want to know that many of the Leipzig kindergartens’ parents had already agreed to the pork stop? Some saw it as a sensible compromise in a place where children from different backgrounds met and where only one meal was cooked a day. But obviously that wasn’t quite as exciting.
For many journalists, this job is still more of a mission than a well-paid career. We still believe information is power. That’s why we haven’t yet gone to work in more secure public-relations jobs. It’s why we email and telephone people we don’t know, who don’t want to talk to us and who probably won’t pay us, because we know of a story that will change the world for the better. Sometimes, the whole process is about as glamorous as selling encyclopaedias, but it still feels as though it should be worth something.
Which is why now is probably also the right time to congratulate the New Zealand Listener on recently reaching its 80th anniversary. And thank the magazine for giving us – writers and readers alike – proof that it still is.
Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news website Niqash.org, based in Berlin.
This article was first published in the August 17, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.