Cybercast News Service Weighs in on Al Durah Trial

There has been a fair amount of reporting on the al-Durah affair in the MSM — far more than anticipated. Some of it has been good if brief (Le Figaro), some brief and awful (The Jerusalem Post), some more longer and mixed (The International Herald Tribune). The best so far is from Eva Cahen at CNS (below), who was the only one to actually interview people at the trial (including me), and to cite more than the same predictable comments from France2.

Cahen’s is below (and not only because she cites me at length). I reserve my fisking of Michel Zlotowski of TJP for the moment. And Philippe Karsenty, who has prepared a response to Zlotowski’s work, has sent out a round up at Media Ratings, but I can’t find it at the site. Nidra’s Part III is now up at Pajamas Media, and Véronique Chemla’s account at Guysen.

French TV Network Sues Over Palestinian Shooting Controversy
By Eva Cahen
CNSNews.com Correspondent
September 18, 2006

Paris (CNSNews.com) – Six years after the world was gripped by media images showing a 12-year-old boy’s death during an Israeli-Palestinian gun battle in Gaza, a French state-owned television channel — accused of spreading misinformation — is defending its reputation in court.

In a series of lawsuits, France 2 Television is suing Philippe Karsenty, director of an online media watchdog agency, for alleged defamation, after he published an article urging that the network’s news director Arlette Chabot and reporter Charles Enderlin “be stripped of their positions immediately.”

A public prosecutor [Procureur de la République] here asked the judges to drop the charges against Karsenty, acknowledging that he had defamed Chabot and Enderlin, but declaring that the accusations against them were based on serious and impartial investigations and offered “relatively convincing proof” of fraud.

The France 2 news report, broadcast in September 2000, was seen around the world after the network distributed it internationally — for free.

In the report, Enderlin — who had not been present when his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma filmed the incident — said the clip was recorded during a gun battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers at Gaza’s Netzarim junction.

Enderlin said the 55-second clip showed Mohammed al-Durra being shot by Israeli bullets, while a man identified as his father tried to shield him. The images became a symbol of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), which had erupted several days earlier.

In the Nov. 2004 article published on his Media-Ratings website, Karsenty cited a detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of the video by the Metula News Agency, a small Israeli organization.

The analysis sought to demonstrate that many of the scenes were staged, and claimed there was evidence that the child had not been hit by bullets and did not appear to be dead.

The two France 2 journalists have stood by their story in interviews given to the French press. Enderlin says that 27 minutes of raw footage from which the clip was taken also contained images of the child dying. He had not included that footage in order to spare viewers, he said.

Last year, a France 2 representative told the Cybercast News Service that none of the scenes was staged and warned that the station would sue anyone who questioned the authenticity of the story.

Karsenty’s defense case included showing parts of a Metula documentary which contained footage from a Reuters cameraman showing the fighting scenes were staged by actors. The analysis also showed frame shots of the boy apparently moving after he was allegedly dead. Although several cameramen were present, only France 2′s Abu Rahma taped the child’s alleged shooting.

Four witnesses testified that they were convinced the video was a hoax.

One of them, Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, said Enderlin had shown him the original rushes during a visit to Israel in October 2003.

“I saw the rushes with Charles Enderlin and I was stunned. I was just blown away because everything was staged. They’d fake injuries, then people would rush them off in ambulances, the cameramen would take pictures and the ambulances would rush off with their sirens blaring, then they’d turn around and come back,” he said.

Landes exclaimed to Enderlin that the scenes were all fake and Enderlin had responded: “They always do that. It’s a cultural style, they exaggerate.”

However, despite the staging of various scenes, Enderlin denied that he could have been duped about the death of the child.

France 2′s original raw footage has only been shown to a select few journalists and the network has ignored requests to make it public.

Other allegations

Some who have analyzed the rushes, while concluding that most of the gun battle was staged, have not questioned the death of the child. Instead, they have refuted Enderlin’s claim that the boy was struck by Israeli bullets.

Esther Shapira, a German film maker, concluded in a 2002 documentary that the bullets could not have been fired from the Israeli positions but had to have come from the Palestinian side.

Two French journalists, Daniel Leconte and Denis Jeambar, who were shown the raw footage by France 2, also came to the same conclusion. They caused a public stir in January 2005, when they said in an editorial in the French daily, Le Figaro, that most of the scenes in the video had been staged.

Landes said he believed the child’s death itself had been staged. At the moment when al-Durra was said to have been fatally shot fatally, he said, the boy was seen lifting his elbow and taking a peek.

Landes said he got some of the available television footage together and started showing it to media organizations in the U.S.

“I went to ABC, NBC, WGBH, the Boston Globe and I showed it to them and they all told me to forget it,” he said.

He was given various reasons for the lack of interest. One producer said he had been convinced but there wasn’t much of an “appetite” for “that.” Another said the organization would have to find something the Israelis had done to provide balance and evenhandedness.

Neither Chabot nor Enderlin were present at the court hearing. France 2 based its case on written testimony about the integrity of the network and its reporter. These included a statement by President Jacques Chirac supportive of Enderlin.

In asking for the defamation charges against Karsentyto be dismissed, prosecutor Sandrine Alimi-Uzan said France 2 could have made a stronger case if it had made available the original raw footage to back its assertion that the story was not a hoax.

Following the hearing, a relieved Karsenty said his faith in the French judicial system had been restored.

“Wherever I went, people refused to listen and to look at the evidence,” he said.

“This was a huge problem because the evidence was obvious — as the public prosecutor has agreed. French society will be redeeming itself through its judicial system if the judges confirm the fact that the charges should be dropped because I showed the evidence.”

The judges, who will pronounce their judgment on October 19, are not obliged to abide by the public prosecutor’s recommendation.

In the meantime, Karsenty said he worried about the possibility that political pressure could have an impact on the eventual judgment.

See Also:
French TV Sticks by Story That Fueled Palestinian Intifada (Feb. 2, 2005)
French TV Allegedly Using Threats to Avert Fraud Probe (Jan. 13, 2005)
TV Documentary: Palestinian ‘Martyr’ Likely Shot By Palestinians (April 2, 2002)

6 Responses to Cybercast News Service Weighs in on Al Durah Trial

  1. Stuart says:

    …meanwhile in the Le Monde of Sunday/Monday 17/18 September, Claire Guillot does her best to bad mouth the very bloggers – a right wing cabal – that the media accuses of slandering them. No mention of the trial.

    Apologies for my French translation. It’s a very long time since I did a traduction like this. But reading it in my hotel this evening made me mad….

    War in Lebanon and Fauxtography

    The conflict has triggered a controversy on the Net of conservative bloggers suspecting images of being manipulated.

    It was “Little Green Footballs” that broke the scandal at the beginning of August. The conservative American blog accused Adnan Hajj, stringer photographer of the Reuters Agency, of having manipulated by computer a photo of Beirut to thicken the smoke after an Israeli bombing. Indeed, the retouching was crude.

    The agency presented its excuses and removed the incriminating photo. But the blog then presented as evidence another of Mr Hajj’s photos where he had duplicated a rocket fired by an Israeli plane. The photographer, who apparently does not know how to use Photoshop very well was sacked and all of his archives deleted.

    “There was a chain of human errors” pleads Tom Szulkovenyi, director of photography at Reuters. “This story is contrary to all our principles and has never happened before.”

    “Reutergate” becomes the starting point of a cabal on the Internet: dozens of bloggers, for the most part Americans or Israelis, of the right or extreme right, self-declared “citizen journalists” who set themselves up to investigate from their living rooms. If you believe them, the case of the “fauxtography”, according to this neologism which is typical of the Internet, stains the whole profession in Lebanon: photographs which have been manipulated or are manipulating, handed over to be retouched, or even set up to give a truncated image that is pro-Hezbollah, or even anti-semitic, of the conflict.

    These attacks are taken up without caution by thousands of web surfers, sometimes relayed by the traditional media (the American station Fox News, the German tabloid Bild, the site of the Wall Street Journal), even by politicians. The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, qualified as “an urban myth” an Israeli attack aimed at two Red-Cross Ambulances on 23 July, basing his allegations on the site Zombieguide (sic), which found the impacts “suspect”.

    The “proofs” furnished by the the blogs often rest on a misunderstanding of the work of photographers or the field. Thus, for example the dating of the images. The blogosphere cries set up when it sees the same dead little girl in Cana on 30 July at different moments in the day. “The time published on Yahoo! is that of the time it was loaded not that when the photograph was taken” explains the photographer Lefteris Patarakis (AP). “The photographers do not transmit all the photographs at the same time”.

    Another more morbid anecdote: when Lefteris Patarakis photographed bodies that had been taken out of the wreckage at Cana lined up, his photo was denounced on the Internet because one of them looked like it was getting up. When in fact it was a case of rigor mortis (stiffening of the body after death)…

    It also happens that the web surfers become engulfed in the detail of the the errors or inaccuracies in the texts accompanying the photos. The site of the New York Times published at the end of July a series of photographs by the American Tyler Hicks after the bombing of Tyre. In one, an inanimate man is being helped in the middle of the rubble. In another, there he is again, resuscitated, coming to help one of the victims! In fact, the man was trying to help the rescuers before being injured and being helped himself.

    “None of these photographs had been manipulated or set up” write Michel McNally, the photography head of the daily paper. (…) But an inaccurate heading could have led one to believe that this man was a victim of the bombings.”

    The paper made a rapid correction. But once the rumour was launched on the Web, nothing can stop it. This is where the bitterness of the photographers comes from: “The bloggers say that they are doing investigative journalism” explains Lefteris Patarakis, “but none has a superior, there is not verification, no process, they write what they want, without ever making corrections (…), But people don’t distinguish between that and the other medias.

    The Belgian photographer Bruno Stevens, who has worked a lot in Lebanon, remarks that often the bloggers act “in bad faith. They do not search for the truth, but mix truth and falsehood, to turn the debate so that we do not talk any more of massacres.”

    The bombings of Cana (28 dead of which 16 were children) is an example of this founded on the omnipresence of one of the rescuers on the photo – in fact the head of the civil defence for the region of Cana. The bloggers have rebaptised this tragic episode “Hezbollywood” and called it a complete set up to accuse Israel. Whereas Tsahal themselves recognise it as a crime in their report.

    “Why was there such a triggering of blogs?” Patrick Baz, asks AFP’s director of photography for the Middle East. “We never had that in the Israeli-Palestinian wars.” According to him in Lebanon “Israel lost the images war. On the Israeli side, we only saw the army, tanks. On the other side, we only saw victims. Hezbollah remained invisible.”

    In his article “War, lies, and videos”, in Liberation 31 August, Shmuel Trigano, President of the Observatoire du Monde Juif, takes up the arguments of the bloggers according to whom, “manipulated, the media reactivated the antisemitic myth of the child-killing Jew.” Bruno Stevens responded to him on 5th September in the same paper defending his fellow photographers, “honest professionals playing no part in a conspiracy.”

    Manipulation of photographs certainly does not just date from the digital era. One can remember the retouching of pictures under Stalin. But the digital age has certainly helped. Before Adnan Hajj, there was Brian Walski in 2003 American photographer sacked from the Los Angeles Times for a collage of two photographs showing British soldiers after the American invasion of Iraq. Today, agencies limit their use of Photoshop to cropping, lighting, and removal of dust specs.

    But Patrick Baz recognises also that there is “a temptation to make photos more spectacular to sell them. There is such competition…Everyone wants to be in the “play report” [catalogue] which provides a list of photos taken up by the press.” Toys a little too clean amid the ruins in Lebanon raised suspicions…

    The photographers admit with difficulty the existance of little arrangements. One of them admitted on the Net having seen photographers in Lebanon asking rescuers to pose with the victims adding that “the dead bodies, they were real”.

    Today he regrets having made the statement and wishes to remain anonymous. “I wanted to encourage the handful of photographers who have carried out such condemnable practices to act with greater ethics”. In reality, my statement mostly harmed the Lebanese people. Rather than reflecting on the attrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

    The most optimistic hope that the blogs will encourage each one to redouble his efforts to be careful, in particular when verifying the text alongside the image sent by the photographers. ” If the AFP has not been stained – apart from a few denyers (negationistes), its because it was the first to create an office close by” suggets Patrick Baz. “There were three of us in Beirut, on site, to review the photos. Whereas Reuters chose to move their photo editing away to…Singapore. The agency moreover has just changed its head of Middle East photography, Jack Dabaghian. As for AP, its has just redistributed its professional code of conduct, clarifying to its photographers that from now on all use of Photoshop must be validated by a superior.

    Claire Guillot.

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Stuart mentions that some of the French media accuse bloggers of slandering them. I feel that very often the media, British, French, American, etc., are slandering Israel and the Jews.

    As for Mme Guillot, she admits Adnan Hajj’s fauxtography, but tries to minimize or explain away other cases. Some points made by critical bloggers are not mentioned.
    She also does not mention that some of the critical bloggers are French. If she did, it might be harder to insinuate that they were influenced by Bush. About the fauxtography, I recall that I read some interesting comments on a French-language site. If Euroreferendum has a French-language site and is not only English, then maybe it was euroreferendum in French.

  3. Lynne T says:

    “A public prosecutor [Procureur de la République] here asked the judges to drop the charges against Karsenty, acknowledging that he had defamed Chabot and Enderlin, but declaring that the accusations against them were based on serious and impartial investigations and offered ‘relatively convincing proof’ of fraud.”

    I know that British and Canadian laws re: defamation differs a lot from US law, in that our laws hold that even if what you say is demonstrably true, if it is said with the intent to harm, then it is defamation. Sounds like French law is similar, even if the inquest-style procedures of “legal code” jurisdictions such as France differ radically from the adversarial system that has descended from British Common Law.

    Any wonder why it is so difficult to set the record straight?

  4. [...] d, as France goes, so goes Europe. (Would France have it any other way?) The plaintiff at the first trial, on September 14, was Philippe Ka [...]

  5. Endre MOZES says:

    Attention: Richard Landes (we met in Ariel)

    The Augean Stables website contains still one of the clearest and most comprehensive background information for the France TV-2′s Muhammad al-Durrah forgery.

    That is why we are recommending it in our present Letter-Writing Call about the France 2 vs. Philippe Karsenty trial at an appeal court in Paris.

    Have a look at this Letter-Writing Call at the top of our home page http://www.take-a-pen.org , and write your own letter or sign the petition there.

    Endre Mozes

  6. [...] one of the commentaters at this site has sent in a translation of a Le Monde article on the Fauxtography Scandal. It is emblematic of everything that ails the [...]

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