Categories: Media issues / Zurich

13 February 2009


BBC Swiss ‘race’ attack report stuns Brazil

Here’s an example of the risk of fast-news. This morning the BBC reported an alleged racist attack by three skinheads at a Zurich railway station on a pregnant Brazilian woman that caused her to miscarry twins in the station’s toilets. By the afternoon, important bits of the story collapsed. 

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva reported that the police did not supply any public information about the attack until after the case was reported in the Brazilian media. Instead, she said, the police called for patience while they investigated the incident. But the tone of the report suggests criticism of the authorities.

The story was irresitable in a way, and maybe even important. As the BBC says of the “SVP” marked on the woman’s body:

Swiss People’s Party – whose name in German is “Schweizerische Volkspartei” (SVP) – is renowned for its anti-immigration stance, and has been accused of racism during political campaigns.

The belly of Brazilian Paula Oliveira after the attack in Zurich

It is claimed the letters SVP stand for “Schweizerische Volkspartei”

Its poster during the 2007 general election, showing white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland, caused international outrage.

However the party has always denied any connection with neo-Nazis, our correspondent adds.

Actually, nobody in Switzerland has ever seriously linked the SVP to neo-Nazi skinheads, racist violence or anything like it. Engraving its name on people’s bodies is not the kind of thing it goes in for.

Brazil’s President said, “faced with such violence against Brazilians abroad one could not keep silent.” Brazil’s minister of human rights Paulo Vannuchi was quoted in O-Globo, the nation’s leading newspaper, saying:

That crime has brought back the horror of the Holocaust.

The Swiss envoy in Brazil has been called to the foreign office to account for what happened. O-Globo reported how government sources called for an independent public inquiry supervised by the United Nation’s High Commissioner of Human Rights.

The BBC implies that the Swiss police were remiss in not trumpeting this attack from the rooftops. But it may be that they had reason to be more circumspect than the BBC or Brazilian media and politicians.

The Swiss police have no idea where the photographs of Paula Oliveira – the 26-year-old lawyer at the centre of this – came from. They are not the ones the police took. That made them suspicious because since the incident she has been in police and medical custody. Medical checks have confirmed the woman was not pregnant at all.

One wonders why the BBC went so big so fast with this story when the facts were unclear and in doubt from the every beginning? Not least because the attack supposedly took place during a busy time at the station for a period of ten minutes with no witness reports. In contrast, the restraint shown by the Swiss media has been praised by the police.

Do I detect BBC Swiss-bashing? Or is this some weird fall-out from the Jean Charles de Menezes case, which was all over the British media on the same day?

Certainly, the later BBC report that expressed doubts over the claim was late – the Swiss media reported the glaring inconsistencies in the woman’s claims from the off. Even the tabloid Blick was much more measured than the BBC.

Forensic experts have concluded that this was a case of self-harm.

2 responses to “BBC Swiss ‘race’ attack report stuns Brazil”

  1. Boyd Neil says:

    Speed trumps accuracy these days . . .especially because the media are worried that an amatuer witness might “tweet’, upload a Flickr pic or YouTube clip, or post something faster that turns out to be the “news”.

  2. Alan_Brighty says:

    More likely to be Swiss-bashing. It’s very prevelant among EU partner countries at the moment as they seek to put Switzerland into a position where it has to give up its constitutional bank secrecy and thereby supposedly fill the coffers of the EU with all its ill-gotten gains. The BBC, for all its protestations of neutrality has always suffered from an extreme left wing bias. This story kills two birds with one stone.

    The media may worry about twittering, flickring or You Tubing, but the reading public doesn’t. Try twittering on a train. It does’t work.