Express.co.uk, the digital arm of the UK-based Daily Express and Sunday Express, published a report with a controversial headline which read “Germany sends China £130billion bill for ‘coronavirus damages’ – sparks fury in Beijing”. The report was published on April 20.
Since then several media outlets published a report with a similar headline including – IIndia TV News, The Outlook, Orissa Post, Amar Ujala, Punjab Kesari and The Economic Times. The Outlook and The Economic Times have attributed the report to news wire agency IANS.
Ashutosh Muglikar (archive link), who writes for right-wing propaganda website OpIndia and Rohit Gandhi (archive link), editor-in-chief at Democracy News Live, also shared the report by The Express on April 20. Muglikar’s tweet was retweeted over 800 times.
It turned out that the headline by The Express was grossly misleading. The first line of the article reads, “Germany has sparked outrage in China after a Bild, the tabloid newspaper in the country, put together a £130bn invoice that Beijing “owes” Berlin following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.” Therefore, the bill was not generated by Germany but by a tabloid newspaper in Germany.
More than 25-hours later, The Express updated the erroneous headline was to “China furious as leading German newspaper writes out £130BN bill for coronavirus damages”. It is pertinent to note that the article was the most read article in the ‘world’ category, as per the website.
Alt News performed a keyword search – Bild China Rechnung (German for invoice) on Google – a found Thoibao, a Vietnamese blog published an article which included a screenshot (attached below) from Bild’s report that generated the invoice for China. On April 15, Bild published an article with the same headline as seen in the screenshot below – ‘Was China uns jetzt schon schuldet (Translates to What China already owes us)’.
On April 18, Germany-based news channel DW, published a YouTube report on Bild’s report showcasing the itemised invoice. According to the report, the article was published on April 15 (Wednesday).
DW reported some of the items on the invoice included — £24 billion loss of revenue in tourism, £7.2 billion loss of revenue to the film industry, £1 million per hour loss faced by German airline Lufthansa and £50 billion loss for small businesses.
Moreover, Full Fact, a UK-based fact-checking website, reported on April 20 that the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that it is quite illusory to demand money from China in an interview with Bild.
On April 15, the Chinese embassy in Berlin responded to the media allegations in the form of an open letter to Bild‘s editor in chief Julian Reichelt. Tao Lili, the spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy in Germany, addressed two allegations – coronavirus spread because Chinese leadership suppressed important information for weeks and China is legally responsible for the economic consequences.
In order to establish that China didn’t hide information, Lili shared a link by the World Health Organisation which shows the time of important events with respect to coronavirus. Lili also questioned journalistic due diligence and accused Bild of fueling nationalism, prejudice and xenophobia.
Two days later Reichelt responded to Lili’s open letter in a tongue-in-cheek 3-minute video. In the video, he questioned China’s domestic policies like surveillance and censorship. One of the points he made was, “You shut down every newspaper and website that is critical of your rule, but not the stalls where bat soup is sold. You are not only monitoring your people, but you are also endangering them – and with them, the rest of the world.”
China‘s embassy in Berlin wrote me an open letter because they weren‘t too happy with our Corona coverage. I responded.
Posted by Julian Reichelt on Saturday, April 18, 2020
Therefore, several Indian media outlets led by UK-based The Express carried a misleading report which implied that Germany is seeking compensation from China for Covid-19. While the truth was that German tabloid Bild had published an opinion piece which included an itemised bill charging China for the damages due to coronavirus.