Michael Jackson and a small victory concerning the press: The German Press Council criticized the press ethics of the german newspaper WAZ (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) and its journalist Dirk Hautkapp in their coverage on Michael Jackson. The Press Council strongly criticized the behavior of the press towards Jackson and imposed their second strongest sanction on the work of journalist Dirk Hautkapp: disapproval.
Saturday, 2 March 2019: Forget the facts about Jackson, journalist Hautkapp and the press published the story!
In 2019 the German Press Council criticized the press ethics of the German Newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) and its journalist Dirk Hautkapp in their coverage re Michael Jackson. 1
On June 4 2019 the German Press Council imposed the second most severe sanction on the German Newspaper „Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung“ and its journalist Dirk Hautkapp for violating the Press Code in their report about Michael Jackson.
In 2019 Journalist Dirk Hautkapp had written for the press about Michael Jackson and an upcoming movie called „Leaving Neverland“. Hautkapps article was then published in the german WAZ – Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on March 2, 2019 in the weekend edition. The Press Council officially stated, with this article about Jackson, the WAZ and Hautkapp violated the ethical standards of journalism. The press council imposes therefor his disapproval in a case of serious violations of journalistic activity.
The Press Council determined that journalist Hautkapp had in a case of serious violations of journalistic activity violated paragraph 2 press code in his article about Jackson. 2, in which the following ethical standard is specified:
„Research is an indispensable instrument of journalistic accuracy. Printable information in word, illustration and graphic has to be checked with all due accuracy on substance and has to be true and clear. It’s sense must not be either disfigured or distorted through edit, title or image annotation. Unconfirmed reports, rumors and assumptions has to be marked as such.“Presscodex, https://www.presserat.de/pressekodex.html
The Press Council imposes a disapproval only in case of more serious violations of journalistic activity but the newspaper WAZ and its journalist Dirk Hautkapp violated their duty of care to report truthfully in their coverage of Michael Jackson. On March 2 2019 the WAZ presented their readers an article by Hautkapp with the following headline:
„A 236 minutes long indictment – How Michael Jackson abused two boys for years – a new documentary“Dirk Hautkapp, article about Michael Jackson in newspaper „WAZ – Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung“, March 2 in 2019
The WAZ ran Hautkapp’s headline in the newspaper section „Culture and Leisure“.
We noted the numerous violations, injuries and breaches of duty that Mr. Dirk Hautkapp had committed in his professional activity as a journalist in his press article about Michael Jackson. And so we decided to file a complaint to the German Press Council against the WAZ and its journalist Dirk Hautkapp.
On June 26 2019 the members of the German Press Council reached their verdict about Journalist Dirk Hautkapp and his article about Michael Jackson:
„The Committee considers the violation of §2 of the Press Code to be as so serious as that it imposes the sanction of disapproval according to §12 of the Complaints Regulations.German Press Council about Journalist Dirk Hautkapp, who violated the ethical standards of journalismhis in his article about Michael Jackson, newspaper „WAZ – Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung“, March 2 in 2019
According to §15 of the complaint regulations, there is no obligation to print disapprovals in the affected publications. However, the Committee recommends such an editorial decision as an expression of fair reporting.“
The fair reporting of the WAZ re Michael Jackson and a correction by journalist Hautkapp is still to come. Therefore we publish here the German Press Council’s disapproval of Hautkapp.
But maybe the reader can ask themselves the question: Can one still separate journalist Hautkapp and true journalism? Is it possible to read the „WAZ“ and other newspapers without seeing the ugly contours of the false reports?
The article sanctioned by the press council about Michael Jackson written by journalist Hautkapp
Here is the WAZ article about Michael Jackson from journalist Dirk Hautkapp who violates the guidelines of the Press Code. The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung presented the text in its Saturday edition on March 2 in 2019 in the section „Culture & Leisure“:
This article in the German newspaper WAZ – Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung by journalist Dirk Hautkapp about Michael Jackson violates the Press Code and was sanctioned by the German Press Council.
Jounalist Dirk Hautkapp violated the ethical standards of journalism. The press council imposes therefor his disapproval in a case of serious violations of journalistic activity.
Complaint to Press Council against Journalist Hautkapp (Newspaper WAZ) for violation of journalistic duty of care in report about Jackson
The following is the complaint we filed on 05.03.2019 against the reporting of the journalist Dirk Hautkapp in the German newspaper WAZ on 02.03.2019:
„Dirk Hautkapp’s article is inappropriate, sensational and violates the journalistic commitment to truthfulness and respect for human dignity. Hautkapp is committed to careful research. The journalist neglects this obligation in his article about Michael Jackson as well as the truthful reporting. Hautkapp presents his speculations and „fake-news“ to the readers of WAZ in the Saturday issue“.
1. In a sensational way Hautkapp places the word „indictment“ in its title. He further writes his subtitle „How Michael Jackson abused two boys for years“. In this way Hautkapp presents a mere assertion in his title as a fact that is not one. The – surely? – experienced journalist, who reportedly writes for 14 newspapers at the same time, did so without the usual journalistic safeguard „allegedly“. Instead, Hautkappp uses the line „a new documentary“. This may help him in case of a complaint. But the media-effective damage that he deliberately caused to his readers has already occurred. Hautkapp’s choice of words for „indictment“ follows Hautkapp’s creation of the word „sex-abuse-indictment„.
2. Hautkapp uses the word „docu“ in his headline. Characteristics of a documentary identifies Wikipedia among others with correctness, traceability, objectivity, integrity. Since those indicators for a correct documentation are missing in Dan Reed’s film work, it is exactly that: only a movie. Without any guarantee for a correct documentation (Evidently this film is about the hour-long presentation of child pornographic details based on a book from the 1990s).
3. „In gruelling length and detail, renowned documentary filmmaker Dan Reed lets Robson and Safechuck recount how they became Jackson sex toys as children.“
Once again: Hautkapp serves his readers an accusation as a fact that is no fact. A reminder: Both men accusing Michael Jackson only had horrendous stories to tell in this film. But never under oath.
4. Hautkapp writes: „The men who met Jackson in their childhood at a dance competition or while shooting a Pepsi-Cola commercial, were also doomed siding with the pop titan in a lawsuit in 2005. At that time, Jackson was accused of having sexually molested a teenager. The trial ended with an acquittal. Twelve years earlier, the superstar had had similar allegations removed from the legal world with payments of $22 million. At that time sensitive files of the federal police FBI appeared. Content according to US media: the names of 17 boys with whom „MJ“ is said to have had sexual relations with. And who are said to have received hush money in the range of 35 million dollars.“
Journalist Hautkapp presents a false report as fact. In addition, he does not even maintain the chronological order of these false reports and creates a completely new construct of misinformation in his article.
These are the facts:
5. In a civil trial in 1993, the parties (dentist/screenwriter Chandler as plaintiff, Jackson as defendant) reached a settlement approved by four judges in a regular American civil court in which Jackson agreed to pay $15 million. Plaintiff Chandler had at all costs carefully avoided pursuing criminal charges against Jackson. In 1993, the prosecutor’s office conducted an official investigation, questioned over 400 witnesses and in the end there were no charges filed against Jackson. Obviously Mr. Hautkapp needs education in the area of the „legal world“, ignores his journalistic duty of research and presents his readers his sloppy and misleading articles.
6. Hautkapp writes „At that time sensitive FBI files appeared„.
Again: Hautkapp’s article is misleading. „At that time“ in 1993 no FBI files „appeared“. The FBI files concerning Michael Jackson are available for every internet user via a simple Google search. Also available for Mr. Hautkapp. Only in 2010, after Jackson’s death, the FBI files were published on request. Nowhere on the more than 300 pages are notes on „the names of 17 boys with whom „MJ“ is said to have had sexual relations with“ or who were „allegedly paid $35 million in hush money.“
Hautkapp tries to get out of his responsibility for his false reports by the lapidary addition „according to US media“. He does not clearly name the source. There is no disclosure to the reader on what foundation Hautkapp’s information is based.
Hautkapp is required to report the truth. But instead, Hautkapp is reporting false stories published in the US media. This journalistic tactic of withdrawing from responsibility and „reporting what others report“ does not comply with the responsibility of journalism. The repeating of false reports by numerous press organs should not serve as a reason for a journalist to declare the false report as truth.
The situation is made more difficult by the fact that Hautkapp does not even correctly reflect the false reports by the US media: With Hautkapp’s „At that time“, -meaning 1993- he presents a completely wrong information to his readers, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of time.
Only for the purpose of manifesting the „guilt“ of Jackson, who died ten years ago, even though court records and files reveal his innocence. Hautkapp ignores this fact in his article and constructs a story which is not true.
7. Hautkapp writes: „It was also fatal for the men […] that they had sided with the pop titan in a trial in 2005.“
Again: a misleading wording used by the journalist for a testimony made under oath in a regular court case under cross-examination by one of the two men (Robson). In American criminal proceedings too, it is not about „siding“ with the parties as a witness, but about telling the truth. Anyone who spends time and effort to read Robson’s testimony on May 5 in 2005 in the published transcripts will notice that Robson had not only simply denied assaults by the accused, but that he had also answered the prosecutors questions under cross-examination in every detail and consistently denied all allegations of abuse. It was for good reason that Jacksons defense attorney had called the witness Robson a very strong one.
Hautkapp does not engage with the truth content of information he spreads through his work. Obviously Hautkapp is the „local USA correspondent“, who has to prevent potential inaccuracies in his information by doing his own research in documentations and court transcripts. Mr. Hautkapp will hardly be able to find possible inaccuracies of information in headline-grabbing USA media reports. Only his study and research of court transcripts, court documents, witness statements recorded under oath can lead to a truthful representation of the legal situation in the matter of Michael Jackson.
It is surprising that Mr. Hautkapp uses media articles from the „National Enquirer“ as basis for his own articles. According to his busy Twitter activity, it is clear that Mr. Hautkapp – politely put – is not a fan of the German newspaper BILD. So why does he use the „National Enquirer“ as the basis for his own articles, which is the source of all copied „US media reports“?
Hautkapp violates the human dignity of Michael Jackson with his journalistic behavior. Hautkapp violates the dignity of the family of Michael Jackson, his mother, his three children. Dirk Hautkapp even managed to make his readers feel that their human dignity is violated by his journalistic work.
According to their website, Funke Mediengruppe insists on the following standards:
„With their credible and journalistically high-quality reporting, they make an important contribution to journalistic diversity and the basic distribution of information to citizens. They guide people in NRW (Note: North Rhine-Westphalia) through everyday life, assist them in understanding what ist happening and forming an opinion“
In relation to the article by Dirk Hautkapp, this claim could not be more ironic.
[…]My family, including my 84-year-old father and 16-year-old son have been reading the WAZ for decades. Appalled by the sloppy journalistic work of Mr. Hautkapp, I ask myself with what kind of garbage „journalists“ like him have provided us throughout our lives. After reading Dirk Hautkapp’s article about Jackson, my 16-year-old son looked at me stunned: „Fake News. Maybe Trump is right after all?“
Congratulations to the WAZ, to Dirk Hautkapp and the likes who actually create „Fake News“.
Decision by the German Press Council dated 04.06.2019: Appeal accepted, Disapproval, No. 2
of the Board of Appeal 1
in Case 0194/19/1-BA
Defendant: WAZ WESTDEUTSCHE ALLGEMEINE
Result: Complaint justified, Disapproval, paragraph 2
Date of decision: 04.06.2019
Participating members: [Names of members of the Press Council…]
A. Summary of facts
I. On March 2, 2019 the WAZ publishes the article „A 236-minute-long indictment – how Michael Jackson abused two boys for years – a new documentary“. In this article the new movie „Leaving Neverland“ is described, in which two now grown men talk about their (alleged) abuse by Michael Jackson.
III. The appeal proceedings were restricted to paragraph 2 Press Code and the claim that the abuse was presented as fact. (Note from Website „German Press Council“ Link https://www.presserat.de/en.html : Research is an indispensable instrument of journalistic due diligence. The publication of specific information in word, picture and graphics must be carefully checked in respect of accuracy in the light of existing circumstances. Its sense must not be distorted or falsified by editing, title or picture captions. Unconfirmed reports, rumors or assumptions must be quoted as such.“)
IV. The legal department of FUNKE MEDIEN NRW GmbH delivers a statement on behalf of the opponent which considers the appeal to be unfounded.
There was no violation against paragraph 2 of the Press Code. The author had fully exercised journalistic diligence in conducting research and drafting the text. In addition, he had presented the allegations of abuse in a recognizable manner as unconfirmed and not proven.
The subheading of the article already refers to the content of the previously mentioned documentary. By this presentation of the text with a dash and the immediate reference to the source of the findings of the article, it was already obvious where the new circumstances were coming from. The term „indictment“ used in this context is obviously used with its metaphorical meaning and not with its strictly legal meaning. It reflects the author’s impression of the documentation. This should be noticeable to every reader, in particular because a deceased person, who Jackson clearly is, was not usually subjected to an indictment in a legal sense. The picture attached to the article, but especially the embedding of the article in the department „Culture & Leisure“ makes it clear even to the last reader that this is not a report about a new sexual abuse charge against Michael Jackson. As the opening sentences undoubtedly reveal, the broadcast of the documentary alone is the reason for reporting and not the well-known accusations themselves.
The design of the introduction, in which the author describes the premiere event in a reportage-like manner, shows that he intends to present his impressions of the event and the documentation in the following text. This was also made clear through the attributes used in the text. The author presents and summarizes the content of the documentation. The reader will recognize that this is a condensed presentation of the accusations made by others, namely the protagonists of the documentary, and not an established fact. The author of the text maintains the necessary distance to these accusations, instead of adopting them, and repeatedly points out that these are the „narratives of the two men“ who „recapitulate“ scenes from the past. The author had to choose this form of summary of the content of the documentation, since at the time of publication they were only accessible to the American public. The character of what is described as mere accusations by others rather than as established facts is supported by the use of the conjunctive in those places where the accusations become concrete (e.g. “ Their mothers, [ … ] were usually nearby“).
In addition, the previous role of the two protagonists of the documentary is critically examined at the end of the text and it is shown that they had behaved contradictorily towards Jackson in court proceedings. This enables the reader to form his or her own opinion about their portrayal in the documentary and to evaluate it for himself or herself. This also strongly contradicts that here mere unresolved accusations had been sold to the reader as facts. This balance of the text would be further supported by the fact that not only Jackson-critical protagonists but also the executor of the estate and the Jackson clan with opposing positions would have their say.
B. Considerations of the Board of Appeal
The Board of Appeal affirms that there has been a violation of the due diligence obligation under Section 2 of the Press Code.
At several points in the article, the abuse of two now grown men by Michael Jackson is presented as an established fact (e.g., „How Michael Jackson abused two boys for years,“ „How they became Jackson’s sex toys as children“), although this has never been established in court, proven beyond a doubt, or admitted by Michael Jackson. In this regard, it would have been diligent journalism to present this not as a fact, but as accusations that have not yet been proven.
This also applies regardless of whether the article is a court report or – as in the present case – a film review in the „Culture & Leisure“ section. After all, the journalistic principle applies to any kind of journalistic reporting that only what is factual may be presented as established fact.
The Board of Appeal considers the violation of paragraph 2 of the Press Codex to be so serious that it chooses the sanction of disapproval in accordance with § 12 of the Press Codex. According to § 15 of the Complaints Regulations, there is no obligation to print disapprovals in the publication organs concerned.
Deputy Chairman of the Board of Appeal
Paragraph 2 „Research is an indispensable instrument of journalistic due diligence. The publication of specific information in word, picture and graphics must be carefully checked in respect of accuracy in the light of existing circumstances. Its sense must not be distorted or falsified by editing, title or picture captions. Unconfirmed reports, rumours or assumptions must be quoted as such.
- German Press Council: „We are the voluntary self-regulation of the German press. The German Press Council is the body responsible for enforcing the voluntary self-regulation of the press in Germany. Through addressing complaints about press behaviour, we monitor compliance with the ethical rules for the daily work of journalists laid down in the German Press Code.“ Link https://www.presserat.de/en.html l
- The press codex on the website of the German Press Council/Der deutsche Pressrat: „(…) 16 numbers, which define standards regarding reporting and journalistic behavior. They ensure that professional ethics are upheld. https://www.presserat.de/pressekodex.html