Storm Clouds Over Paris

Karsenty_1A gathering storm comes to a head in Paris this week as a series of lawsuits get underway. Three individuals who criticized France-2 TV’s world-famous footage of Mohammed Dura were sued for defamation by the powerful state-owned TV company. Specifically singled out for criticism were correspondent Charles Enderlin and cameraman Talal Abu Rahma. We encourage readers to see the video at Second Draft.

Associated with the trial are many powerful and uncomfortable issues, including anti-Zionism in the French media, the icon status of Mohammed Dura, Israel’s response to the affair, the disturbingly close relationship between France’s media and political elites, the fairness of French justice, the future role of France 24 (dubbed the “French CNN” due to be launched in December), and—on a broader level—the future of French Jewry.

Pesach Benson of HonestReporting discussed the proceedings with Philippe Karsenty (pictured), the defendant in the first trial, which begins Sept. 14. Karsenty, 40, is the founder and president of Media-Ratings, a professional media analysis company based in Paris. The following is a condensed version. Click here to read the full interview.

HonestReporting: People criticize the media all the time. Why are you in legal proceedings now?

Philippe Karsenty: We have a company, Media Ratings. Our goal is to analyze the media outlets. We’re not a blog. We respect bloggers very much but we are different. We’re an established company. We’re not crazy people writing in their apartments. We treat all sorts of subjects, not just Israel. So the French establishment hates us. They consider me an insider and consider Media-Ratings dangerous.

HR: What’s the significance of this trial?

PK: The significance is that we published an article saying that Arlette Chabot, the head of the information desk at France 2 and Charles Enderlin, who narrarated the Al Dura forgery, should resign because they refused to admit that they made a mistake and to correct the information. They were very upset we published this on our web site…

HR: What led you to conclude that the video was a forgery?

Talal_abu_rahmaPK: The cameraman (pictured left) offered the images to CNN, and they rejected it because Talal wouldn’t offer guarantees that it was legitimate. On the same day, Talal made another forgery filming fake scenes. Reuters filmed him filming other forged stories. On the first scene of the France 2 report before the child is killed, you see the scenes he filmed are fake.

They broadcast a scene where the guy was supposedly hit in the leg by a bullet but there’s no blood. People are dragging him on the sidewalk and there’s no blood. An ambulance comes, it takes two seconds from the time he’s supposedly wounded and the ambulance comes. Two seconds just doesn’t make sense, it’s too fast….

France 2 claims they have 27 additional minutes of footages. They invited two independent experts to watch the video. According to the two experts, 90 percent of those images were faked scenes.

HR: What was your criticism for which you are on trial? Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

PK: It’s a good idea to have the case on the table. This forgery was done a long time ago and the Israeli government behaved very cowardly. They refused to take steps to have this forgery corrected.

Apart from damaging the Israeli image in the world, it has given a very hard time for Jews all over the world…

HR: What does France-2 want from you? What’s at stake?

France2_3PK: They want us to be condemned for defamation. We could be condemned if the judges think our words were too strong. They could say we wrote too strongly. But it doesn’t change the fact that the video is a forgery. Even if we lose, we’ll keep on saying it’s a forgery….

If they succeed, the day we’re condemned will be a great day for them. They’ll say they were vindicated. They’ll say “We didn’t lie when we said Israeli soldiers killed Mohammed al-Dura.”

HR: What does France-2 stand to lose if you prevail?

Charles_enderlinPK: So many people supported a certain view of the world, so many people were defending Enderlin (pictured left) and Rahma, it’ll be difficult to apologize without firing hundreds of people. France TV, which owns France-2, is organizing France 24, the French CNN. They’ll do what they can to avoid apologizing.

HR: The Mohammed Dura incident was years ago. Why should anyone still care?

PK: This image is carried in everyone’s brain. Everyone thinks it’s true. Daniel Pearl was killed to avenge Dura. [Pearl’s killers] put the image in the video.

The trial will help to clean up the French media and the international media and expose the lies suffered in Lebanon….

When sportsmen take drugs, they’re kicked out. I want that the people who are giving fake stories to the public be kicked out. If people are fired, it’ll be a good deterrent for any other bad guy who would like to lie or misrepresent the truth.

HR: Do you expect a fair trial?

PK: I hope so. But nothing is sure. It’ll be a very good test to see if there is a future in France for honest, decent people. We’ll see how independent the judicial system is.

HR: What’s the relationship between France 2 and the government?

French_tvPK: France TV is owned by the government. France 2 is a subsidiary of France TV, the parent company. The CEO of France TV, Patrick de Carolis is the guy who wrote a book with the wife of Jacques Chirac [Conversation, by Bernadette Chirac]. It was a big success so they made him the head of France TV. It’s completely controlled by the state and the relationships are very strong.

HR: What would you like to tell HonestReporting readers?

PK: France cannot be ignored. It’s a small country but it’s important in terms of diplomacy and media. The French government will launch soon France 24. They call it “the French CNN”. It’ll be the voice of the French officials, dispatching ugly messages. For example, you can be sure that they’ll call the people placing car bombs in Iraq or in Israel “resistance fighters.” France can be a big trouble maker in the world because of its media and diplomatic network.