Amid a surge of misinformation about Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine, scores of Czech social media users have shared footage from a German TV channel in which a reporter talking about the war appears to suddenly vanish from the screen. The author of the post presents the video as proof that the journalist was not actually in Ukraine and that the incident was a form of “propaganda”. However, according to the full version of the report supplied to AFP by the broadcasting group RTL Deutschland, which owns the channel whose footage was shown, the journalist never claimed he was reporting from Ukraine: the full news segment states that it was filmed in Russia before the invasion. The journalist’s “disappearance” is due to technical problems during the live broadcast, RTL explained.
“The sound is not that important. Be sure to watch to the end. At the 40 seconds mark, the reporter, who is supposedly in Ukraine, suddenly disappears. So much for propaganda,” claims the Czech langauge post that was published on Facebook on February 27 and shared by some 170 users before it was deleted on March 3.
The minute-long video in the post features footage from a TV report in German being played on a computer screen. A reporter is commenting in German on Russia’s intentions in the right part of the split screen, while footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin runs on the left.
Some social media posts in other languages also suggested the reporter was not where he claimed to be. This Reddit post from Brazil says “Light, camera, action. Gone!!!! As real as the comedian heroic president on the front lines”, referring to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. While Zelensky has remained with his team in Kyiv under Russian siege, he is not fighting with the troops on the battlefield, as some other misleading posts have suggested, using old photos of him touring the front lines late last year. AFP debunked those claims here.
The claims about the German TV clip fit into a pattern of misinformation about the war that accuse western media of faking reports and staging casualties from Ukraine. AFP has debunked several of those claims here and here.
RTL correspondent in Moscow, not Ukraine
Using a reverse image search, AFP was able to determine that the segment came from German news channel ntv, which is part of the RTL group. Although the video in the Facebook post is of relatively poor quality, the logos of both RTL and ntv are visible on the journalist’s microphone, as seen below.
AFP contacted RTL Deutschland, whose spokesman Thomas Steuer confirmed that the footage was from the ntv station’s evening news on 21 February 2022, before Russian troops invaded Ukrainian territory. On air, presenter Jessica Westen connects with Rainer Munz, RTL’s longtime correspondent in Moscow.
RTL provided AFP with a copy of the entire segment. The fact that Munz is in Moscow, not somewhere in Ukraine, is clear from the way Westen introduces him (“and now to Moscow to my colleague Rainer Munz”) and from the name of the location that appears at the beginning of the report on top of the screen, as shown in the screenshot below:
The footage seen by AFP shows that Rainer Munz was dealing with technical problems from the start. After a few introductory words, the picture freezes and we only hear every other word. After a few seconds, the connection is restored, but the quality continues to be poor and both the sound and the image are jerky in places. Eventually, his image freezes completely and Munz disappears from the screen — this is the part shown in the shorter version of the video shared on Facebook. The logo of mobile provider Aviwest, which RTL says Munz uses for live feeds, eventually pops up on the screen.
“Rainer Munz uses a smartphone with the software MoJo Pro from AVIWEST in Moscow and broadcasts via the public mobile network,” RTL spokesman Thomas Steuer told AFP in a March 2 email. “In this shot on Monday evening last week, there are sudden drops in the transmission rate, so that the picture freezes again and again. This can also be clearly seen in the background. Mr. Munz himself does not notice anything at first. Only when the data rate drops so low that the audio connection also freezes and he can no longer hear the presenter, does he check his cell phone — and steps out of the picture while he is fully visible frozen,” Steuer said. When the transmission was renewed, “Mr. Munz is therefore suddenly gone,” he explained.