AFP Amends Headline With Unverified Claim About Killing of Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Aqleh

Following communication from CAMERA’s Israel office, Agence France Presse today amended a headline which stated as fact the unverified, disputed claim that Israeli troops fatally shot Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aqleh.

Al Jazeera’a Shireen Abu Aqleh (Abu Aqleh’s Twitter account)

The news agency’s headline had stated “Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli forces in West Bank” (6:24 am GMT). (The original headline is still available at France 24).

No investigation had been completed to make this determination and  big questions surround the circumstances of the fatal shooting that took place this morning during a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.

 The article itself acknowledges a military official said:

 “There is an ongoing inquiry into this event. We offered and want to conduct a joint investigation with the Palestinians.”

The army said there was an exchange of fire between suspects and security forces and that it was “investigating the event and looking into the possibility that journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”

As reported by Haaretz and others, however, Palestinians have reportedly refused to cooperate on an investigation, a fact which AFP did not report. In addition, Palestinian boasts during the battle that they hit an Israeli soldier when no soldier was hit raise questions about who hit Abu Aqleh. Haaretz reported:

During the raid, according to the military, militants opened fire at the Israeli forces and hurled explosives at them, before the soldiers returned fire. No casualties were reported among the Israeli force. . . .

“I don’t think we killed her,” Ran Kochav, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, told Kan public broadcaster. “We proposed to the Palestinians to open a swift joint probe. If we indeed killed her, we’ll take responsibility, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.”

“If the Palestinians cooperate we’ll have better answers,” Kochav said, arguing “they might have a good reason” not to. According to him, “the Red Crescent took the body away” immediately after the shooting. 

Associated Press, another leading wire agency, published the cautious, careful and accurate headline: “Al Jazeera journalist killed by gunfire in West Bank.”

Shortly after CAMERA’s communication with AFP regarding the headline and the additional unreported information, AFP published an updated story (8:45 am GMT) accompanied by a headline which no longer accused Israeli troops of the killing: (“Al Jazeera journalist killed during Israel West Bank raid“). 

Yahoo, which had published AFP’s original story, commendably replaced it with updated, more informative version. The amended story also contains improved text.

The original story began:

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was shot dead by Israeli troops Wednesday as she covered a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the network said.

Al Jazeera said Abu Aqleh, 51, a prominent figure in the channel’s Arabic news service was shot “deliberately” and “in cold blood,” by Israeli troops.

The revised article reports Al Jazeera’s unsubstantiated charge lower down in the second paragraph, alongside Israel’s speculation that she was killed by Palestinian fire. The first paragraph reports only established facts:

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was shot dead Wednesday as she covered an Israeli army raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. 

The Qatar-based TV channedl said Israeli forces shot Abu Aqleh, 51, deliberately and “in cold blood” while Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it was “likely” that Palestinian gunfire killed her.

Additional information which appeared in the later version includes:

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel was seeking a “joint pathological investigation into the sad death of journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.”

“Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,” Lapid added. …

The Israeli prime minister said Palestinian gunmen in the camp were likely responsible for Abu Aqleh’s death.

“According to the information we’ve gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were indiscriminately firing at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” Bennett said in a statement.

Update, 9:23 am EST: Barron’s Pulls AFP Story

Barron’s, which had published AFP’s earlier story with the problematic headline, has removed the article in response to communication from CAMERA. 

See also “Indy Corrects Headline Stating as Fact That Israel Killed Al Jazeera Journalist