Czech tabloid falls for journalists' trap, publishes absurd conspiracies and fake news without fact-checking
Czech-language online tabloid news server Parlamentní listy has been reporting that the USA is using mind-altering chemicals in Syria through so-called "chemtrails", as well as rumors that "cyclo-fascists" and "eco-terrorists" are responsible for recent terrorist attacks in Europe. This kind of "information", referencing fake sources, has been published by the online tabloid without any attempt at fact-checking.
Mediahub.cz reports that two recent articles full of absurd constructs and lies published by the tabloid have one essential thing in common: Their authors do not exist. The pieces were submitted to the paper as a test to see whether its editors perform even the most basic journalistic work.
The authors of the fake news items are actually Jan Binder and Karel Goldmann. They submitted their pieces under the pen names of "Jan Beruška" and "Jan Hellinger".
A commentary by a "new author" for the tabloid website, "Hellinger", was released on 14 April, explaining why terrorists are now committing murder with the aid of automobiles in big European cities but avoiding Prague so far. The reason, according to the commentary, is allegedly somewhat complicated and involves a conspiracy by American secret services and Islamist terrorists which is actually being directed by bicycle enthusiasts from Prague.
The cyclists were said to be seeking a ban on all automobiles in Europe in order to force people to ride bicycles. Another article written by "Jan Beruška" came out the next day with another message for readers of the tabloid: "Information published by both of the above-mentioned media outlets claims that independent investigations have discovered facts documenting that the attack was just an unfortunate accident. Yes, America has long used chemicals in Syria, but those are the so-called chemtrails involving mind-altering chemicals. However, we will probably never find out how the deadly sarin got onto the airplanes that are quietly conquering the world and going unnoticed."
"Even though I knew Parlamentní listy would publish practically any absurdity, I wanted to test whether they do anything that is at least a bit similar to editorial work, i.e., whether they check out the author and the information in the text. If they had done that, my article should have immediately ended up in the trash. It did not. It's published online," Goldmann told Mediahub.cz.
"I wanted to test for myself whether the editors at Parlamentní listy are really so immoral, or just so stupid and unprofessional, as to accept and publish even more utter nonsense. I put sources in my article that were completely invented, so if anybody had at least looked them up online, they would have immediately arrived at that conclusion. There is not a single verifiable piece of data in the entire article. It is nonsense from beginning to end and I broke probably every point of the journalists' code of ethics in it. Despite that, they published it," Binder said.
Mediahub.cz contacted the management of the tabloid for comment. "For the time being nobody from Parlamentní listy has answered us, but once they do, we will publish their response," the news server reported.
Past fake news included explicit antigypsyism
The tabloid is infamous for having previously published fabricated articles. In February 2012, news server Romea.cz revealed that the tabloid had published a completely fake news iem about the establishment of a (non-existent) Romani political party which was then robbed by its (non-existent) treasurer shortly thereafter.
The "news" became a hit on the Czech internet and was shared by an enormous number of people. Unfortunately, it was taken up by the serious media as well without verifying its validity.
Some media outlets subsequently apologized for publishing the "news" and even altered their editorial policies when it came to republishing anything from the tabloid. Romea.cz's reporting was the first time any media outlet had drawn attention to the tabloid's lack of seriousness, which was fully displayed yet again during the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016.
Last month RESPEKT magazine reported that the tabloid's news item about the "Romani treasurer" was one of the biggest fake news incidents in the Czech Republic. Renowned journalist Jindřich Šídlo said the following about the work of the journalists at Romea.cz: "This is a case for the journalism textbooks, and if it's possible, people should teach it this semester."
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