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The enigmatic excuse for the flop with the miracle TV from Africa

Let's pretend that the current allegations against ARD and its broadcasters in Berlin-Brandenburg and Hamburg do not exist.

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The enigmatic excuse for the flop with the miracle TV from Africa

Let's pretend that the current allegations against ARD and its broadcasters in Berlin-Brandenburg and Hamburg do not exist. Yes, it's not easy, but it's possible. Once this suppression exercise has been mastered, it becomes easier to judge whether one really needs to be outraged by this and that public broadcaster's upset - or perhaps not.

Now there are two current examples that easily pass this thought filter activated for the moment. On the one hand, there is the reporting by ARD and ZDF on the funeral ceremonies in honor of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Why it was necessary to broadcast for hours in parallel from London on Monday remains completely unclear – and it cannot be compared to that of either broadcaster cited "outstanding contemporary historical importance" justify. The central argument for keeping both channels is the supposed competition and the journalistic diversity, which in this case was just a holy simplicity.

The second example relates to the news from September 16th about the “television that generates energy”, which ran as an article and audio clip on “”. If you haven't heard about it yet (the article has since been deleted, but can be found online): An inventor from Zimbabwe is said to have invented a television set that can be used as a power generator by receiving radio waves. This was reported by an ARD correspondent based in Johannesburg, who spoke to Maxwell Chikumbutso and also reviewed his invention.

Chikumbutso is quoted as saying that researchers from the USA had tested his invention and found it to be good, and the reporter predicted: "If it were to prove itself through further testing, the invention from Zimbabwe would be sensational." And: "His ideas could be a great success be. And yet in large parts of Europe he is not even listened to, Chikumbutso criticizes.” In this particular case, however, it has nothing to do with Western arrogance, but with the fact that this invention simply cannot work.

The post was then very quickly exposed as nonsense, ran up and down on Twitter, where the author Jana Genth finally wrote: "Despite all my inquiries, I have not had any contact with scientists from the USA who, according to Maxwell Chikumbutso, have examined his alleged invention and should have verified. He wants to have developed that, he claims. That's how I should have phrased it in the tweet." And that's how she could have phrased it in her post - if it had even needed a post.

Because Chikumbutso, as could be found out with a simple search engine entry, has already attracted attention as a high-piling inventor. For example, “Politifact”, a fact check offered by the journalism institute Poynter, which in 2018 relegated a message about an electric car that never had to be charged to the realm of fairy tales – such a car that defied the laws of physics did not exist. The fact checkers of the news agency AFP came to the same conclusion. These articles were freely available.

With a rudimentary technical understanding, it would have been quite possible to unmask the inventor's story as a fraud (or at best technological satire) without the help of fact-checkers. It was already too unbelievable in itself - and the quick exposure of the false information shows that. The reporter apologized afterwards, I sincerely apologize. As incomprehensible as it is that she could believe the story, it is also right to take away her horror at the mistake and accept the apology. The malice that Genth met via Twitter is not surprising, but in many cases it seems like the self-righteous know-it-all attitude of electronic engineers ganging up.

On the other hand, the statement by the editors of ARD-aktuell, which is responsible for the "Tagesschau" and its offers, was much more astonishing. The editors regret having published a "duck" because they have "high quality standards for journalistic work". But: "We assume that all correspondent reports that we publish have been checked in advance according to all basic journalistic rules."

However, this statement remains a mystery, because it is not specified at which point in the process between the visit to the inventor and the publication of the article "according to all journalistic basic rules" should be checked - and who exactly assumes that this was done "in advance". . With this formulation, the responsibility for such a painful mistake is shifted somewhere. Now the "procedures" are to be improved.

It's absolutely true that many media outlets struggle with the culture of error and sometimes make awkward excuses. And journalists like to throw stones out of the glass house when it suits them. However, this does not mean that criticism is not justified just because mistakes are made elsewhere. If we now switch off the filter switched on above and think about the current debate about the future of public service broadcasting, then it becomes clear how narrow the line ARD is walking.

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