AFP’s Compounded Error

On Oct. 12, Agence France-Presse (AFP) ? one of the world’s ‘big three’ wire agencies ? opened its report on the IDF’s Gaza operation with this:

Israel’s massive military operation into the northern Gaza Strip shows no sign of a let-up after two deadly weeks that have seen 111 Palestinians killed, mainly children, and Qassam rockets still being fired into Israeli territory.

‘Mainly children’ killed? The New York Times reported a short time beforehand:

In 11 days of fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have killed at least 90 Palestinians, including about 55 militants and 35 civilians, according to Palestinian hospital officials. The dead include 18 Palestinians who were 16 or younger, according to a count by The Associated Press.

So Palestinian and press sources had indicated that the vast majority of Palestinian dead were adult and/or ‘militants’ ? not, as AFP reported, children.

This isn’t an insignificant detail ? the inaccuracy pertains to a highly sensitive issue, and was erroneously reported in the first line of AFP’s dispatch. As such, it sets a condemnatory tone regarding the entire IDF anti-terror operation in Gaza.

HonestReporting spoke with the AFP news editor in Jerusalem just minutes after the error appeared. AFP’s editor acknowledged the statement was wrong and said that a correction was forthcoming.

Surprisingly, AFP did not issue a correction. AFP’s subsequent report on Gaza that day simply did not contain the erroneous phrase ? but gave no indication to local editors that the previous version was wrong and should not be published.

So the fictitious version continues to proliferate worldwide ? accessible on the popular YahooNews [here], and reprinted in many local newspapers (for example, here and here).

*  *  *

In news reports, as anywhere, mistakes happen. Accepted journalistic standards dictate that in such cases, the news outlet issues a timely, prominent correction. This ensures that other news outlets avoid reprinting the fiction, and may issue corrections of their own in the event that the error was already reprinted.

By failing to issue such a correction, AFP deviated from standard journalistic procedure. In a follow-up conversation today (Oct. 14), AFP’s Jerusalem news editor acknowledged to HonestReporting that ‘maybe we should have done so’ ? but does not intend to issue a proper correction.

The ‘product’ that any news outlet sells is its accuracy and fairness. With a mistake like this, compounded by the failure to correct the record, news consumers must wonder about Agence France-Presse’s credibility in covering this conflict.

? Comments to AFP’s Jerusalem bureau: afp.jerusalem@afp.com
? Comments to AFP news: contact@afp.com
? Or call AFP’s Paris headquarters: (00-33) 140-414-646

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

HonestReporting

UPDATE (10/15/04): In apparent response to this communique (two hours after it was released), AFP finally issued an official correction to the story.

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