Updated: AFP Corrects Misinformation on Al Aksa Arson

July 6 update follows.

June 30–An egregious error in a June 28, 2005 Agence France Presse (AFP) story has yet to be corrected. The report, entitled “Islamic states want permanent seat on UN Security Council,” wrongly claims that a 1969 arson attempt at the Al Aksa mosque was carried out by “Jewish hardliners.” Until the error is corrected, it will introduce – or reinforce – anti-Jewish misconceptions.

Describing the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the news report states:

OIC was given its current name when it was first established at a meeting of Islamic leaders convened in Morocco following an attempt by Jewish hardliners to burn down Islam’s third holiest site — Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque — which is also revered in Judaism. (June 28, “Islamic states want permanent seat on UN Security Council”)

In fact, the arsonist, Dennis Michael Rohan, was not Jewish. He was an Australian Protestant follower of the Church of God sect.

The circulation of this misinformation by a respected Western news outlet, ostensibly with high journalistic standards, serves to reinforce misinformation about the arson diseminated in the Islamic world which blames Jews or Israelis for the incident. (The AFP story has already been published on the Web sites of newspapers from Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, and Pakistan.)

It is surprising that the false allegation was published by a prominent global wire service, apparently with no fact checking. (If the story had been vetted, maybe the bizzare assertion that the Al Aksa mosque is “revered in Judaism” would have been removed as well.) More disturbing is the fact that it has remained on the record even after CAMERA notified editors of the error.

In an environment where questionable reports about desecrating the Koran can spark murderous rioting around the world in the name of Jihad, the accusation that a Jew tried to burn down the Muslim’s third holiest site cannot be taken lightly. Journalistic standards require that news agencies promptly correct errors and misinformation. When dealing with such a grave substantive error, it is even more important. 

When the Wall Street Journal similarly erred on the identity of the arsonist, it took the newspaper, which only goes to press once a day, only two days to publish a formal correction.

How long will AFP, which updates stories by the minute, allow this dangerous misinformation to spread?

UPDATE: July 6, 2005

After continued CAMERA communications with Agence France Presse editors, the wire service filed a correction and dispatched an updated version of the story. The story now states:

OIC was given its name when it was established at a meeting of Islamic leaders in Morocco following an attempt by an Australian member of the Protestant Church of God, Dennis Michael Rohan, to burn down Islam’s third-holiest site, Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. The site of the mosque is also revered in Judaism.

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