Toilet Journalism, The Sun, Emile Ghessen and Croatia

Total Croatia News

Updated on:

Croatian Ministry of Interior

As Croatia’s Interior Ministry exposes a migrant exclusive by The Sun as a sham, what responsibility should the newspaper bear for the fake story?

“I am glad when the police quickly finds liars like these, so-called professional journalists, and catch them lying about hiding in a toilet where they belong, together with the newspapers which employ them.”

Strong words, especially when taken from the mouth of a Minister of the Interior. Croatia’s minister Ratko Ostojic was understandably furious at an exclusive by The Sun, which claimed its investigative journalist Emile Ghessen had managed to travel from Turkey to Paris totally unchallenged in just six days. He had managed to get through Croatia by hiding in a train toilet and leaving the door open, hoping that police would not check. A triumphant Mr. Ghessen then allegedly continued unhindered to Slovenia and on to Paris, thereby recreating the route believed to have been taken by at least one of the Paris terrorists.

An alarming story, and one which got Mr. Ghessen plenty of attention when it was sensationalised in Britain’s most popular tabloid, The Sun. 

Alarming if it had been true. Ostojic published proof that Ghessen had been checked not once, but twice – on entering and leaving the country. To prove his case, he published a copy of the journalist’s passport (see above), stating that he had arrived in eastern Croatia and left not by train through Slovenia, but by plane from Zagreb airport.

After we reported in English on the Croatian media’s covering of the story on December 6, 2015, we invited The Sun to explain the discrepancy, both by contacting them by email and by leaving a comment under the article itself. It was a comment that proved a little too much for our small site, and the sheer volume of traffic knocked TCN off air for an hour. By the time we had returned, The Sun had removed their article. It was soon replaced by articles on the sham reporting in The Guardian, Huffington Post and Independent. While The Sun did not reply to us, they did comment to The Independent

“A spokesman for The Sun said: “The Sun is currently investigating concerns that have been raised about this story.

“The journalist concerned is not a member of The Sun’s staff but a freelance documentary maker, whose work has been used by national broadcasters, newspapers and websites.”

A nice statement distancing The Sun from any responsibility. It would seem that the paper can publish sensationalist claims at will, influencing the opinion of a nation on a very sensitive subject, then simply unpublish and distance itself from the ‘journalist’. While most of the focus has been on the sham story itself, there is another issue here which is important – the authenticity of the investigative reporters themselves, as Mr. Ghessen’s actions have done a huge disservice to freelance journalists everywhere.

For a start, he is not even a journalist. In an earlier article in the Daily Mail, Ghessen is introduced with the following headlines:

“Emile Ghessen, 34, quit job as a security guard to film jihadis on frontline

Former Royal Marine who went to school with Jihadi John swaps his rifle for a video camera to document ISIS atrocities because ‘it has more reach than any gun I carried’

He went to the same London primary school as Mohammed Emwazi, now better known as notorious executioner Jihadi John

He later served tours of Iraq and Afghanistan while in the Royal Marines

Mr Ghessen’s Christian terrified family are trapped in war-torn Syria.”

Assuming the above statements to be true (and there would be no reason to doubt them if the migrant story had been true), Ghessen is obviously very passionate about his subject. His Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts have been taken offline since the story broke, but here he is speaking about ISIS on his Vimeo channel (the link is working at time of publication). But he is not a journalist.

According to the Daily Mail, his career as a self-declared freelance documentary maker started as recently as May this year. A former Royal Marine, he apparently quit his job as a private security guard to and flew to Iraqi Kurdistan to see cover a story on Western fighters on the front line with ISIS. Keen to continue his work, he started a crowdfunding campaign a month ago to raise money for his work. It raised just £421.

With no obvious formal training or qualifications in the industry, just six months later Ghessen found himself reporting on a sensationalist exclusive for Britain’s most powerful tabloid.  He had proved his point about his work which ‘has more reach than any gun I carried’.

It is not for us to comment on the actions of Mr. Ghessen, and it should be noted that he has yet to publicly reply to the accusations about his story (although the removal of the story and social media accounts are an indication of something), but should not the bigger question be raised about the background checks a national newspaper is doing into the experience and motivations their freelancers have, especially when the topic is such an emotive and topical one such as this?

The Sun has promised an investigation, but I doubt the results will be anything more than a small apology on page 12 under the bingo numbers. 

The false story also does a huge disservice to the authorities in countries like Croatia, portraying it as disorganised, a little lawless, and an open door for terrorism. The opposite is in fact true. As long as Germany’s door (the main destination) to refugees remains open, Croatia has maintained it will be a transit route. Europe’s migrant problem has to be solved at the EU level, not by one small country. Almost half a million people have passed through the country in three months, as Croatia has responded humanely. There have been no major incidents or disruption to the country at large, and as I wrote in a previous editorial, just ten had chosen to seek asylum in Croatia. The response by Croatia to the crisis has been exemplary. 

It would be heartening if The Sun and its investigating journalists could reach the same levels of humanity and professionalism.  


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment