France 2 Counters Accusations with Lawsuits

Updated October 19, 2006

Updated Jan. 18, 2007

September 14, 2006

On September 30, 2000, France 2 (French public television)’s Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin helped fuel the Palestinian intifada against Israel by claiming in a news broadcast that 12-year-old Mohammed Al Dura was targeted and shot dead by Israeli forces. Even as evidence mounted to suggest this claim was false, Enderlin and France 2 refused to apologize or retract their original statements, responding instead with defensive lies and threats of lawsuits. (See CAMERA articles on Mohammed Al Dura and France 2’s coverup)

The first of these trials starts today (September 14, 2006) at the Palais de Justice in Paris. The plaintiffs, are Charles Enderlin, France 2, and Arlette Charbot, France 2’s news director. They are charging Philippe Karsenty, founder of the French online media watchdog, Media Ratings, with defaming their honor and reputations by suggesting France 2’s September 30, 2000 broadcast was fraudulent and calling for the dismissal of Chabot and Enderlin. In a November 22, 2004 internet article entitled “Arlette Chabot and Charles Enderlin must be fired immediately“, Karsenty insisted that France 2 violated many journalistic standards when it broadcast the false report of Al Dura. He maintained that the Al Dura footage was staged, and announced his readiness to defend his claims in court. It is notable that the television network, its executive and correspondent are bringing the lawsuit as individuals whose honor has been sullied rather than as media representatives upholding journalistic standards.

It is difficult for Americans to comprehend the lack of  media accountability and individual freedom of speech in France. Many will be closely watching to see how the France’s legal system deals with these issues.

Nidra Poller, a writer and author living in Paris, has written about the Al Dura affair. She is attending the trial and covering it for Pajamas Media’s Politics Central.  In her first article about the trial, she observes that

Debate has been stifled by the defensive reaction of Enderlin, his hierarchy and, apparently, the government itself. It is significant that in the absence of debate the myth [of al Dura’s death] will be “judged” in the narrow confines of a lawsuit, within the strictures of legal language and rules of evidence.

And she asks about France 2’s lawsuits against the three individuals:

Did they single out three supposedly soft targets with the intention of silencing all those who are actively engaged in dismantling the myth, and discrediting them in the eyes of clear-minded people who are slowly discovering that the al-Dura news report is a fake? …

…Common sense would dictate that devious, complicit, and/or incompetent journalists should be fired. Instead, we have a trial, an ordeal for the accused who must spend untold thousands of euros to defend himself against extravagant accusations brought by an alliance of individual journalists and a television network who are, in reality, the state. Obviously such a state of affairs precludes the slightest whimper of media watch.

Historian Richard Landes, who maintains a Web site–The Second Draft– and a blog–The Augean Stables–about the Al Dura case and other forms of media manipulation, is in Paris to present testimony at Karsenty’s trial and will provide updates on his blog.

The next two defamation lawsuits will be held on October 24 against Pierre Lurçat,  of the group Liberty, Democracy and Judaism  whose Web site, for urging people to attend a rally where France 2 and Charles Enderlin were “awarded’ the “Prize for Disinformation,” and on November 30 against Charles Gouz whose blog www.- republished articles suggesting Enderlin and France 2 broadcast a staged scene.

Stay tuned for developments.

UPDATE:  Nidra Poller and Richard Landes Report from the Scene

September 17, 2006

Nidra Poller and Richard Landes concur the September 14 trial against Phillipe Karsenty reflected  respect for true justice. Ms. Poller writes that it was “a genuine debate conducted in a civilized manner by intelligent responsible citizens aware of the importance of every word they uttered.” She praises the judge for his thoughtfulness, attentiveness and probing questions. Mr. Landes describes the summation of the Procureur de la République, the court-appointed official representing the public interest who makes non-binding reccommendations to the judge based on the evidence heard in court:

A screen writer could not have written a better speech. All the best tropes of civil society — honesty, accountability, fairness, transparency, context… the dangerous powers of an uncriticized quatrième état (fourth estate)… the right of the public to know, and therefore the responsibility of France 2 to show the tapes of their cameraman Talal abu Rahmeh… the fact that what Phillipe [Karsenty] had said was in fact defamation of Charles Enderlin’s reputation as a journalist, but that the evidence more than supported such an accusation… that this was not the typical case of libel, where the person slings unconsidered insults at another, but a carefully studied and considered criticism… that any sharp language was more than justified in the context of a case where one wants to attract attention… that it was not malice to want que Charles Enderlin tombe [that Charles Enderlin should fall].  

The lawyer for the plaintiffs—France 2, Chabot and Enderlin—apparently gave a luckluster performance, using t he same defense as always, i.e., attacking the critics while claiming that Enderlin is a professional journalist who works for a respected network  The Procureur de la République  suggested that all charges against Karsenty be dropped.  The verdict will be announced on October 19, 2006.

For Nidra Poller’s article, click here.

For Richard Landes’ account, click here.

September 18, 2006

The International Herald Tribune published an article (“Can Internet criticism of Mideast news footage be slander?” by Doreen Carvajal, September 18, 2006) about the trial against Karsenty. 

Nidra Poller’s third installment of her trial coverage is available here.

October 19, 2006

The court has found in favor of France 2 and Enderlin, ordering Philippe Karsenty to each of them symbolic damages of one euro.  In addition, he is ordered to pay a 1000 euro fine and court costs of 3000 euro. 

For Nidra Poller’s analysis, click here   

October 24, 2006

The defamation lawsuit against Pierre Lurçat, a French-born Israeli lawyer and president of a group called Liberty, Democracy and Judaism, takes place at the Palais de Justice.  Lurçat’s group is listed as the legal operator of a Web site, Ligue de Defense Juive, which, in 2002, urged its readers to “demonstrate against the lies of France2” and to award a “Prize for Misinformation” to Charles Enderlin and France 2. Lurçat who lives in Jerusalem is not present at the trial.

Nov. 28, 2006

The  lawsuit against Pierre Lurçat is dismissed on a technicality, namely, insufficient proof that Pierre Lurçat is responsible for the Web site on which the alleged defamatory statements were made. 

Nov. 30, 2006

A defamation lawsuit by France 2 and Enderlin is brought against Charles Gouz, a Parisian physician who posted an Oct. 1, 2002  letter by Stephane Juffa  on his blog that included criticism of Charles Enderlin.  In fact, the letter by Juffa expressed opposition to the awarding of the Misinformation Prize to Charles Enderlin, but, at the same time, also criticized Enderlin for “serious professional errors in the Al Dura affair,” and affirmed there were “serious presumptions of misinformation” surrounding the Al Dura affair and of the part played  France 2 staff.  The letter also referred to “brutal and unacceptable obstructions” to demonstrating the truth of what happened. Since France 2 and Enderlin are unable to bring charges against Juffa who publishes in Israel, Gouz serves as a proxy since his Web site is registered in France.

Jan. 18, 2007

The court passes a “mitigated judgement” against Dr. Gouz. The judge declares Gouz was within his rights in posting an article about “serious professional errors” by Enderlin, and acknowledges that France 2 and its staff are not transparent in their dealings, showing no willingness to expose the truth.  However, the judge rules Gouz should not have permitted the word “désinformation” (misinformation) to be used on his Web site.  Gouz is ordered to pay symbolic damages to the plaintiffs in the amount of 1 Euro and a suspended fine of 1000 Euro. 

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