The Editors Weblog obtained an exclusive interview with Philippe Karsenty, who is currently appealing a 2006 verdict that found him guilty of libel, in a trial opposing him to French public broadcaster France 2 and journalist protégé Charles Enderlin. The hearing on Wednesday Feb. 27 lasted over six hours, but the court adjourned its decision to May 21.
According to Karsenty, France 2's Al Dura "coverage is the media's biggest masquerade to have had such impact." But he doesn't believe that the allegedly fraudulent report is representative of more widespread manipulations in media coverage.
Quick recap of the story: in 2000, France 2 diffused coverage obtained from a local camera man, and voiced over by Enderlin, of the death of a Palestinian boy, allegedly killed by Israeli fire, an iconic image which was widely reproduced thereafter and used as a symbol by pro-Palestinian propaganda.
In 2004, Karsenty's Media-ratings company accused France 2's coverage of being a hoax - for a plethora of reasons. Karsenty was subsequently taken to court and found guilty in October 2006 of defaming journalist Enderlin and his outlet, public broadcaster France 2. He appealed the decision and during the new hearings on Feb. 27, a lot of time was spent reviewing and discussing the video footage and images. And as a Weblog exclusive, you can read the ballistic report, which was commissioned by Karsenty.
Without going too deep into the details about the new trial, Karsenty argues that a lot of coverage produced at the time was staged with the help of the local population, and this seems to be confirmed by footage viewable on Honest Reporting, as well as footage shown in court. "On that day in Gaza, it was a film set," he says. Other major news organizations, including Reuters and the Associated Press, were present.
Are these kinds of manipulative or staged media practices widespread?
"I'm not generalizing," says Karsenty, who insists his only claims are about this specific report in those circumstances. But this event should bring attention to international news organizations' use of local correspondents and camera staffers, whose content the outlets must often trust at face-value, he said.
In fact, the France 2 camera man's footage was offered to CNN, which refused to initially air the report because it didn't obtain the guarantees of authenticity it was asking for.
Whether these media practices are widespread internationally Karsenty didn't say, but he argues they correspond to the media's situation in Palestine, "a situation where the media bends over to the rules of Palestinian authorities," he says (see here about the monitoring of coverage of the Oct. 12, 2000 lynch).
There is another intriguing issue in this affair: in the years since this controversy has started, few French traditional media have openly taken Karsenty's defense or been willing to place it high in the news agenda.
Blogs and independent media have increasingly covered the story, many of them outside of France though. According to Karsenty, a similar affair would have never dragged on as long in the US, because bloggers and truly independent media would have long dug out the truth (evoking Dan Rather and the Killian documents controversy).
What the Al Dura affair also shows is that France is (still) a "system with dominating media that don't recognize their mistakes," says Karsenty. He points out that of the few established blogs and 'independent' news outlets in France, those that are considered legitimate by traditional media, all are held by professional journalists and former journalists who have worked within traditional media.
But Karsenty refuses to see the Al Dura affair as the symbol of commonplace manipulative practices in the media. Nor was France 2's report symptomatic of showbiz-news and news agendas increasingly led by eyeballs and sensationalism. For him, this is simply the story of a local camera man who submitted a faulty report, which was picked up by a mainstream media organization and its well-respected journalist, both of whom didn't recognize their mistake.
According to Karsenty, a US website will shortly be publishing the 18 minutes of raw footage that France 2 showed in court (out of 27 minutes filmed by the camera man).
Karsenty says he is confident about the outcome of the appeal. The court will make its decision public on May 21.