Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Every "Bild" Tells A Story

"The seventeenth state topples." Germany has sixteen states, its sixteen Bundesländer. These are sixteen states within the borders of Germany. There is a seventeenth. Mallorca. Germany's relationship with Mallorca is not the same as Britain's or any other country's. It is a great deal more intimate. Mallorca is not just a holiday destination, it is as though it is an honorary member of the Bundesrepublik.

"Bild" deals with the sensationalist. It is very popular, but there are plenty of Germans who look down their noses at it, just as there are Germans who would look down their noses at Mallorca.

The German relationship is, in these respects therefore, not dissimilar to Britain's relationship with Mallorca. And as with the British press, "Bild", where Mallorca is concerned, both giveth and taketh away. "Germany's favourite island," it headlined a special feature in May to announce its collaboration with Air Berlin to fly lucky winners to Mallorca for the broadcast of "Wetten dass ...?". With a nod in the direction of Mallorca's culture, it offered mentions of Chopin and Valldemossa before getting down to the real business and a description of the island's "dream beaches".

A month or so on and "Bild" has shown its other side. The taketh away side. The seventeenth state toppling side. The darker side. And Mallorca's "dark summer" side.

It stings when foreign media attack Mallorca. It stung Magalluf when it was discovered that the BBC had exposed its darker side. It has stung in the past when "Bild" has been critical or been sensationalist. It was "Bild" which reckoned that bird flu in Germany had been brought back from Playa de Palma. And once again, it is Playa de Palma that the newspaper has turned its attention to. Playa de Palma, Arenal, the main German tourist centre on the island.

It stings, but who is really stung? Is it the tourist, either regular or prospective? Or is it the sensitive Mallorcan or resident of the island? It depends, in part, on the novelty aspect of the sensationalism; in part, on the accuracy and the truth. The BBC claimed that it would be telling the truth about Magalluf, but then truth was a good word to include in a programme title. You knew what was coming, and it didn't disappoint. But nor did it say anything that wasn't already known. "Bild" has said nothing that isn't already known. Problems in Playa de Palma show, and have shown, that Magalluf's problems are not unique; the main difference lies with the nationality.

Has the BBC's documentary made any noticeable difference to Magalluf, either in terms of numbers or in terms of actions taken to eradicate problems? As to the former, the answer would appear to be no. As to the latter, well possibly it has. The programme was criticised, but it stung; there was truth, even if it was only a certain truth and nothing but the whole truth. Will "Bild", using the oldest journalistic trick in the book, of starting its article with a series of negatives - binge-drinking, mugging whores, criminal gangs, gambling tricks, cheap sex, fatal balcony falls - make any difference to a German public familiar with issues in Playa de Palma and with the "Bild" style? Probably not. But it might just sting Palma and Llucmajor town halls.

The Spanish media does what it typically does when a full-frontal assault is launched by the foreign media. It closes ranks with outraged local authorities and others who would protest that a foul has been committed. It brandishes the "sensationalist" charge (not unreasonably and not inaccurately, admittedly) and, as has happened with the "Bild" article, dissects the facts and stats. Mallorca is not more dangerous than it used to be. Criminal incidents were down last year. "Bild" should get its facts right. This is the reaction.

Of course it should get its facts right, but if the facts are wrong, then why are there people in Magalluf and Playa de Palma who are sick to the back teeth with enduring problems that exist? Why are there petitions to get something done?

Yet, and here is the irony, the Spanish media, while eschewing the sensationalist, feeds the foreign media with its "facts". For instance, if "Bild" uses an image of young tourists drinking from an alcohol-filled bucket, this is no different to images that have been presented in the past by the Spanish press. 

"Bild" is sensationalist, but sensationalism has lost its power to sensationalise because of its ubiquity. Nevertheless, it can have some impact. "Bild" means picture. Every picture tells a story. It may not be the whole story, but it isn't necessarily the wrong story.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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