Dec 12, 2004 7:50 pm


Follow up to previous story

More About France 2

Wall St Journal Europe, December 10, 2004

Two weeks ago on this page, Stéphane Juffa, editor in chief of the Israeli-based Metula News Agency, accused French state-owned television channel France 2 of the most serious crime a news organization could possibly be charged with: He said France 2 journalists aired a false a report and that the TV channel refuses to publicly acknowledge the deception. He was referring to TV images that showed a young Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Durra, allegedly being killed by Israeli soldiers in September 2000.

On Tuesday, we published a letter by Charles Enderlin, the Jerusalem correspondent of France 2 and one of the two accused journalists. But his 560-word rebuttal never addressed the actual charges leveled against him, his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma or his employer.

Mr. Juffa accused Mr. Enderlin of having falsely claimed that additional film material exists that shows the child's death throes. Mr. Juffa also says that France 2 admitted that Mr. Abu Rahma, the sole witness to the alleged crime, has retracted his accusations against Israel. Yet, France 2 has not made a retraction public. Instead of trying to refute the charges that the images were faked or misrepresented, Mr. Enderlin cites other evidence seemingly in support of his case. But we are unable to corroborate his claims.

Mr. Enderlin wrote that France 2"has filed several libel suits against Web sites and individuals accusing us of having participated in the staging of the video." But we have contacted Mr. Juffa as well as Serge Farnel and Philippe Karsenty, two Frenchmen who have also taken up the al-Durra case. None of them are the targets of any lawsuits, they told us.

We asked France 2 about this and were sent a list of several lawsuits the channel said it has filed. However, they were not against"individuals" or"Web sites" but against"X," parties that are as yet anonymous. When we inquired why France 2 wasn't charging individuals directly, we were told:"From a legal perspective, it is false to say that 'we know exactly' who Messrs. Juffa, Farnel or Karsenty are."

But that really shouldn't be so difficult, one would think. Mr. Farnel, a Frenchman residing in Paris, is one of those accusing France 2 on his website of having staged the al-Durra scene. He challenges France 2 to sue him:"I will fully avail myself to the station in order to give it the elements necessary to take legal procedures against me," he writes on the site. He is still waiting.

Mr. Karsenty, the president of a French media-rating agency, offered to donate €10,000 to a charity of France 2's choice if the channel can prove that the pictures depicted a real event. His firm, Media Ratings, also challenged France 2 to file suit, displaying the company's address prominently on its Web site. Media Ratings also is still waiting to hear from France 2.

Aude Weill Raynal, Mr. Juffa's lawyer, believes the real reason for France 2's cumbersome legal procedure, which can take months and might not result in an actual lawsuit, lies elsewhere:"This procedure allows France 2 to tell everyone we are suing 'them' for defamation without anything necessarily happening."

Mr. Enderlin quotes Israeli Gen. Giora Eiland who said on Oct. 3, 2000 that the boy was probably killed by Israeli fire. Mr. Enderlin also included as"proof" that his story was correct the fact that the Israeli authorites supposedly never complained and that"France 2's bureaus in Jerusalem and Gaza are functioning normally."

All the second point proves is that Israel is a functioning democracy where even reporters suspected of violating normal journalistic standards can operate freely. As to the first point, Mr. Enderlin was rather selective with his quotes. The Israeli government told us that Gen. Eiland long ago retracted his original statement, which in itself was based purely on the France 2 report. Since then, an inquiry commissioned by the Israeli military, which Mr. Juffa cited in his article, has argued that the boy could not possibly have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

"It is misleading, disingenuous and unprofessional to quote Gen. Eiland on what he said back then," Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli government press office, told us.

Finally, Mr. Enderlin claims France 2 has produced all relevant evidence to"professional journalists," most recently at a press conference last month in Paris. This event, though, had some shortcomings. France 2 denied access to anybody who accused the channel of any wrongdoing. Even the French audiovisual trade union was outraged:"The station thus avoided any questions concerning this controversy either about the topic at hand, or about the station's respect of its own charter."

"It is more than time to get to the truth," the union said in its statement. It would seem so, wouldn't it.

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