A former award-winning German magazine writer is in the news again for fresh allegations. Claas Relotius who resigned a week ago in disgrace for making up fantasy news, is now being accused of charity scam. Der Spiegel, his former employer, says it has information that Relotius, 33, embezzled cash that he collected for children orphaned by the war in Syria. The influential German publication says it was unaware of the purported charity campaign, when it occurred following his July 2016 report. Relotius wrote an article about Syrian orphans living on the streets of Turkey, and went on to collect charity in their benefit but purportedly kept the funds in his own bank account.
The weekly magazine, which is based in Hamburg, holds that it does not know the amount of funds collected fraudulently. “Der Spiegel will give all the information it collects to public prosecutors as part of a criminal complaint,” the magazine said on its website, according to Agence France-Presse.
As reported by the NY Post, a Turkish photographer who worked with Relotius, said that the stated article too had numerous significant inaccuracies. Der Spiegel has also confirmed that Relotius seemingly invented the two young siblings who were featured in the article about Syrian orphans. The discredited writer also apparently wrote several follow up pieces about trying to help the children get adopted by a German family, which Der Spiegel has since said was also fabricated.
Der Spiegel announced last week that Relotius had admitted to making up interviews and writing false content for at least 14 articles. The magazine said that the scam was the “worst thing that can happen to an editorial team.” Der Spiegel said that it will press charges against Relotius. It also vowed to “do everything to boost our credibility again.”
Relotius has since gone into hiding, but has sent a message of apology to Germany’s Reporter Forum, which had previously honored him with four awards, which he said he was returning. CNN also stripped him of two ‘Journalist of the Year’ awards that he won for articles in the Swiss magazine Reportagen. In his roughly 11-year-long career as a journalist, Relotius authored or co-authored 55 articles for Der Spiegel, and three more stories for Spiegel Online, its sister online publication. He has also written for other notable German news publications, such as Financial Times Deutschland, Welt, Cicero,and Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
The scandal has now raised questions over editing practices throughout the field. As per the Washington Post, Der Spiegel is actually one of the few handful of publications, which has the means to hire dozens of fact-checkers who carefully sift through everything before publishing. The magazine, however, says that mostly they find spelling and grammar mistakes and are not aiming to catch deliberately ‘fake news’. “Still, cases of outright fabrication are really rare, so it wouldn’t make much sense to reorient all efforts to catch those cases,” said Lucas Graves of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.
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