Written by David Warren
May 25, 2008
by David Warren
©2008 Ottawa Citizen
My column today will be about just one incident in the Middle East, that happened nearly eight years ago. It was a significant incident in its own right, with repercussions to the present day. It is more broadly significant, because it provides a clear example of the way malicious dishonesty in media reporting costs lives, inflames conflicts, feeds ignorance, and spreads murderous racial hatred.
The incident was the alleged shooting of a little boy by Israeli troops in Gaza, in September 2000. His name was (purportedly) Muhammad Al-Dura, and if my reader has been watching any television over the last eight years, he will have seen the clip, probably many times. A Palestinian man and boy are shown cowering by a wall. Then suddenly the boy is shown dead in his father’s arms. The voice-over explains that he was picked off by an Israeli marksman.
The clip was produced for the French state television channel, France-2. After assembly in Paris, it was immediately aired, and also distributed free of charge to media the world over. It received huge play everywhere, and in most Muslim countries it continues to be shown, endlessly. The Arab League declared October 1st to be “Al-Dura Day” to commemorate all Arab children “victimized by Zionists.” Hundreds of schools have been named after the child throughout that world, where depictions of his dead body have become iconic. Orchestrated demonstrations of rage over this have cost additional lives.
The film for the clip was shot by a Palestinian cameraman, the honesty of whose work has been repeatedly challenged. Charles Enderlin, the French news correspondent who vouched for the accuracy of the clip, and provided the voice-over, was not in Gaza at the time. When a formal Israeli investigation showed that it had not been physically possible for any Israeli soldier to have shot the boy, it was hardly reported. Several independent investigations confirming the Israeli finding were similarly ignored.
But when a French media-watch organization challenged the clip, France-2 sued its director, Philippe Karsenty, winning a questionable libel conviction in 2006, with damages assessed at 2 euros. This conviction was appealed, and overthrown last week, after the higher court demanded that France-2 provide all 27 minutes of the raw film footage that surrounded the making of the clip. France-2 surrendered only 18 minutes, insisting the rest was “irrelevant” -- even though the court heard sworn testimony that the missing footage contained rehearsals by Arab boys, play-acting at being shot. On the basis of the 18 minutes they could see, the court ruled that Mr Karsenty’s allegation the clip was staged, was the reasonable conclusion.
France-2 still refuses to cut its losses, and make a clean admission of what happened. It has too much at stake in the affair, and is currently blustering about an appeal to the appeal. The evidence so far presented shows things won’t get any better for them. Meanwhile, the Israeli Supreme Court is now reviewing France-2’s Israeli media accreditation.
The case casts much light into the background condition of media reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Left-wing, anti-Israel journalists such as Charles Enderlin depend regularly for emotion-laden pictorial content, and for the rumours they report as breaking news, on locally-hired Palestinian photographers, cameramen, and stringers. The interests and loyalties of these people are not even an open question. For even if they personally desire to reveal only the truth, we must consider the physical consequences to them of reporting a single item favourable to Israel. Palestinians are frequently publicly executed as “Israeli agents” -- on direct orders from Fatah or Hamas -- on the basis of much vaguer suspicions.
The same story applies to Lebanon, where local journalists whose lives depend on their ability to please Hezbollah are the principal source of the news we receive, via editorial packaging in Paris, London, New York. This is how e.g. Reuters news agency was embarrassed, in August 2006, when battlefront pictures it had distributed to the front pages of the world’s newspapers were shown to have been not only photoshopped, but rather crudely photoshopped, in a Beirut studio in four different ways. The failure of Western picture editors to spot obvious indications of fraud, such as the duplication of smoke patterns, was in that case pointed out to them almost immediately by Internet bloggers.
As I mentioned above, tremendous damage is done by sensational mainstream media reporting that is, even when not fraudulent, considerably less than candid about sources. And this damage is compounded when the media give little or no attention to subsequent retractions.
SOURCE: David Warren is a Canadian journalist whose thrice-weekly column appears in the Ottawa Citizen & other CanWest newspapers. His background includes many years in Asia." Website: www.davidwarrenonline.com