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September 12, 2007
Tunisian stamp of Mohammed Al Dura
The image of Mohammed Al Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy crouched in terror behind his father as he allegedly becomes the fatal victim of Israeli bullets, has become an icon of Palestinian "martyrdom," fueling Arab hatred of and violence against Israel. But the controversy around the authenticity of the event and its original broadcast by French Public Television continues to simmer.
On September 19, 2007a year after the original trial of France 2 vs. Philippe KarsentyKarsentys appeal will finally be heard. The original trial involved plaintiffs Charles Enderlin, France 2's Middle East correspondent, and Arlette Chabot, France 2's news director, charging defendant Philippe Karsenty, founder of the French online media watchdog, Media Ratings, with defaming their honor and reputations by writing an article (posted on his Web site) that suggested France 2's news broadcast on the death of Mohammed Al Durah was fraudulent. (See France 2 Counters Accusations With Lawsuits)
The belief of Karsenty and many others that France 2 broadcast a staged scene is based on several sources, including an extensive investigation by the French-language Israeli news agency MENA, a book by Gerard Huber, a psychoanalyst and former correspondent for MENA entitled "Contre-expertise dune mise en scene" (Re-evaluation of a Staged Event) that puts forth evidence suggesting that this was a staged scene, and the accounts of a few journalists who have viewed the raw film footage of the scene, which France 2 has steadfastly refused to make public. According to those journalists, the raw film footage directly contradicts the description given by Middle East correspondent Charles Enderlin. Rather than showing the death throes of 12-year-old Mohammed Al Dura, as Enderlin had claimed and on which he presumably based his report, the footage is not of Al Dura at all, but shows Palestinians pretending to be shot, then springing up to replay the same scenes over again. (See BACKGROUNDER: Mohammed Al Dura) Richard Landes, a Boston University historian who came to believe that the entire Al Dura scene was a hoax, devotes a blog, Augean Stables, and a Web site, The Second Draft, to media manipulation and specifically to the Al Dura case. He has produced three filmsPallywood, The Birth of an Icon, and Icon of Hatredpresenting evidence that the Al Dura scene was staged. (See Second Draft: Movies)
Still other journalists, including German documentary filmmaker Esther Shapira and Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows, while avoiding the charge that the Al Dura death was a hoax, maintain that Charles Enderlins broadcast of Al Duras death was inaccurate and misleading. Fallows, for example, expressed his certainty that Al Dura could not possibly have been killed by Israeli fire, contrary to what Enderlin asserted. (See Mohammed Al Durah: Anatomy of a French Media Scandal) He wrote:
It now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world's media and fervently believed throughout the Islamic world. Whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day's fighting ...The truth about this case will probably never be determined.
But in France, the media apparently believes it is above reproach. Rather than publicly airing the raw footage of the Al Dura event and apologizing for misleading the public about the boy being shot by Israelis, Charles Enderlin and France 2 have continuously dug in their heels, covering up with lies (See The Al Dura Cover Up, The Al Dura Affair: France 2 Misleads About a U.S. Congressional Report, Charles Enderlin: Further Cover-Up of the Al Dura Affair, and France 2 Counters Accusations with Lawsuits). Instead, they have brought lawsuits against French citizens who have dared accuse them of dishonesty and media manipulation.
Palais de Justice (Paris)
Those who attended the original September 14, 2006 lawsuit against Karsenty were stunned by the judgement which departed from the norm by going against the recommendations of the Procureur de la Republique, the public prosecutor representing the people, who found in Karsenty's favor. The role of the procureur is to make recommendations about the trial to the judge, and although judges are not obliged to follow these recommendations, they traditionally do.
Since the plaintiffs did not appear in court and there were no witnesses, the prosecutions case rested on written testimony of the reputability of Enderlin and France 2's staff, including a 2004 letter written by former President Jacques Chirac attesting to Enderlins integrity.
Karsentys defence included testimony by Karsenty himself, Francis Balle, media professor and former member of the CSA (radio and television regulatary board, similar to the American Federal Communications Commission), Luc Rosenzweig, former journalist for the French daily Le Monde who was one of the few who viewed the raw footage of the event, Richard Landes, and Gerard Huber. All concurred that there was ample evidence to support Karsentys allegation that the scene was staged.
After hearing both sides, the Procureur de la Republique, Sandrine Alimi-Uzan, concluded that Karsenty was not motivated by personal animosity and that he made his accusations against Enderlin in good faith, offering convincing evidence that his allegations defaming the reputation of Enderlin and France could indeed be true. As a journalist, Enderlin had the obligation to verify his account of the events. Karsentys article, while controversial, was based on serious investigation, and should not be dismissed out-of-hand as did France 2. The recommendation of the Procureur was that Karsenty be acquitted. Yet, the final judgement of the court was in France 2 and Enderlins favor. Karsenty was ordered to pay symbolic damages. (See translation of judgement)
Karsenty is now appealing this judgement. He says his fight is about being allowed to argue that the Al Dura event was staged. "Im not asking the judge to say yes, it was fake but Im asking him to say, when Karsenty said it was fake, he was in good faith to say it with the information he had at the time."
It is extremely difficult for Americans to comprehend the total lack of media accountability and individual freedom of speech in France. Why is the public television network not accountable to the public? Why is France 2 allowed to hide evidencethe raw footagethat may prove or disprove its guilt? Why is reporter Charles Enderlin allowed to publicly broadcast unfounded and ultimately false allegations against Israel while Karsenty is muzzled by the French media and the courts from making a case against the story presented based on plausible evidence?
Update I, Nov. 14, 2007: Court Orders France 2 to Turn Over Raw Footage
On September 19, 2007, the 11th Chamber of the Appeals Court of Paris heard Philippe Karsenty's appeal of his verdict. The presiding appeals judge requested France 2 turn over the raw footage of the incident to the court. The court order requires France 2 to submit Abu Rahma's original 27 minutes of footage no later than October 31 to be viewed at a public hearing on November 14. The case will be heard in full on February 27, 2008.
It is perhaps a disturbing sign that in interview with the Jerusalem Post right before the public hearing, Enderlin suddenly claimed there were never 27 minutes of raw footage:
"I do not know where this 27 minutes comes from," he said. "In all, there were only 18 minutes of footage shot in Gaza."
While Enderlin has conveniently forgotten where the 27 minutes came from, his cameraman in whom he claimed to have "full confidence" testified to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that he had "spent approximately 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes." And the three French journalists who were invited by France 2 to view the footage, Luc Rosenzwieg, Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte, reported that "In the 24 minutes of film preceding the footage of Al Dura, young Palestinians are performing for the television cameras. They fall and when they think that no one is around, they get up." (See CAMERA's Anatomy of a French Media Scandal.)
Only 18 minutes of film was shown in court, none of which showed Al Dura being killed. There is minimal footage of the Al Duras and the boy is still alive at the end of the tape. Richard Landes, who previously viewed over 20 minutes of raw footage in Enderlin's office, says that two obviously staged scenes were cut. The film directly contradicts claims by Abu Rahma that he had filmed 27 minutes of the Israeli army shooting at Al Dura and by Enderlin that much of the film that was not shown was of the boy's "death throes." In fact, the boy is still clearly alive at the end of the footage. The audience seems skeptical about the entire film.
Update II, April 24, 2008: Canal+ Broadcasts Documentary Impugning Philippe Karsenty
Just weeks before the appeals court is to deliver its judgement on Philippe Karsenty's appeal, the French pay television channel Canal+ broadcast a documentary defending Charles Enderlin/France 2 and impugning Philippe Karsenty. Broadcast on its weekly investigative program, Jeudi Investigation and entitled "Rumeurs, intox: les nouvelles guerres de l'info" ("Rumors, Brainwashing: The New Information Wars"), filmmaker Stéphane Malterre equated Philippe Karsenty's dissection of the France 2 broadcast and the conclusion that it was staged with the allegations of U.S. "truthers"who argue that the 9/11 attack in New York was an "inside job" carried out by the U.S. government against its own citizens and those of anti-Semites who accuse Zionists and Jews of being behind the 9/11 attack. The documentary accused Karsenty of falsifying information on the internet in order to promote an extremist and radical viewpoint. Karsenty sued for defamation.
Update III, May 21, 2008: Court Rules in Favor of Philippe Karsenty
On May 21, 2008, in a stunning reversal of the lower courts verdict, the appeals decision was handed down. It cited "the contradictory answers given by Charles Enderlin to the questions relating to the editing of the film," the "inexplicable inconsistencies of the viewable images," and the "contradictory answers of [cameraman Talal Abu Rahma] on the issue of the sequence of the scenes and the conditions under which they were filmed." It also noted "France 2's persistent reluctance to allow the viewing of its cameraman's rushes," and Enderlin's "imprudent claim that he edited out the images of the child's agony."
While the court could not say that Karsenty had definitively proven the broadcast to be a hoax, it did find that there was a "sufficient factual base" for the charges he had made. The appeals court therefore overturned the lower court's judgement, concluding that "Philippe Karsenty exercised his right of free criticism in good faith; that, in doing so, he did not overstep the limits of the freedom of expression."
Update IV, June-July, 2008: Aftermath
Hundreds of French journalists friends and colleagues of Enderlins together with several French "personalities" and internet readers, posted a petition of support for Charles Enderlin on the website of the Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine. They characterized him as the victim of an "obstinate and hateful campaign to tarnish [his] professional dignity." They were amazed, the petition stated, that the court would "grant the same credibility to a journalist known for his serious and rigorous work who practices his profession under sometimes difficult conditions as to his detractors who are engaged in a campaign of negation and discredit, who ignore the realities of the terrain and who have no experience reporting from a conflict zone."
But several French journalists and personalities broke rank with the petition signatories, condemning the petition and/or calling for an investigation. Among these were Figaro columnist Ivan Riofoul and Elie Barnavi, a historian and former Israeli ambassador to France.
The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) held a press conference calling on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to establish an independent investigative commission on the Al Dura affair. CRIF's proposed "independent" commission, however, includes France 2 as well as CRIF itself.
Update V: June 2010: Criminal court of Nanterre finds Canal+ Guilty of Slandering Karsenty
The criminal court of Nanterre finds Canal+ and the production company Tac Prsse guilty of slandering Philippe Karsenty in their April 24, 2008 documentary(see above)by suggesting that Karsenty had manipulated facts on hisinternet site to supportthe "radical and extremist viewpoint"that Enderlin's France 2 broadcast about Al Dura was staged.Thejudges concludedthat filmmaker Stephane Malterre had ignored relevant evidence about the Al Dura hoax and demonstrated a lack of objectivity in sullying Karsenty's reputation.