Paris (CNSNews.com) - Six years after the world was gripped by media images showing a 12-year-old boy's death during an Israeli-Palestinian gun battle in Gaza, a French state-owned television channel -- accused of spreading misinformation -- is defending its reputation in court.
In a series of lawsuits, France 2 Television is suing Philippe Karsenty, director of an online media watchdog agency, for alleged defamation, after he published an article urging that the network's news director Arlette Chabot and reporter Charles Enderlin "be stripped of their positions immediately."
A public prosecutor here asked the judges to drop the charges against Karsenty, acknowledging that he had defamed Chabot and Enderlin, but declaring that the accusations against them were based on serious and impartial investigations and offered "relatively convincing proof" of fraud.
The France 2 news report, broadcast in September 2000, was seen around the world after the network distributed it internationally -- for free.
In the report, Enderlin -- who had not been present when his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma filmed the incident -- said the clip was recorded during a gun battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers at Gaza's Netzarim junction.
Enderlin said the 55-second clip showed Mohammed al-Durra being shot by Israeli bullets, while a man identified as his father tried to shield him. The images became a symbol of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), which had erupted several days earlier.
In the Nov. 2004 article published on his Media-Ratings website, Karsenty cited a detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of the video by the Metula News Agency, a small Israeli organization.
The analysis sought to demonstrate that many of the scenes were staged, and claimed there was evidence that the child had not been hit by bullets and did not appear to be dead.
The two France 2 journalists have stood by their story in interviews given to the French press. Enderlin says that 27 minutes of raw footage from which the clip was taken also contained images of the child dying. He had not included that footage in order to spare viewers, he said.
Last year, a France 2 representative told the Cybercast News Service that none of the scenes was staged and warned that the station would sue anyone who questioned the authenticity of the story.
Karsenty's defense case included showing parts of a Metula documentary which contained footage from a Reuters cameraman showing the fighting scenes were staged by actors. The analysis also showed frame shots of the boy apparently moving after he was allegedly dead. Although several cameramen were present, only France 2's Abu Rahma taped the child's alleged shooting.
Four witnesses testified that they were convinced the video was a hoax.
One of them, Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, said Enderlin had shown him the original rushes during a visit to Israel in October 2003.
"I saw the rushes with Charles Enderlin and I was stunned. I was just blown away because everything was staged. They'd fake injuries, then people would rush them off in ambulances, the cameramen would take pictures and the ambulances would rush off with their sirens blaring, then they'd turn around and come back," he said.
Landes exclaimed to Enderlin that the scenes were all fake and Enderlin had responded: "They always do that. It's a cultural style, they exaggerate."
However, despite the staging of various scenes, Enderlin denied that he could have been duped about the death of the child.
France 2's original raw footage has only been shown to a select few journalists and the network has ignored requests to make it public.
br>Some who have analyzed the rushes, while concluding that most of the gun battle was staged, have not questioned the death of the child. Instead, they have refuted Enderlin's claim that the boy was struck by Israeli bullets.
Esther Shapira, a German film maker, concluded in a 2002 documentary that the bullets could not have been fired from the Israeli positions but had to have come from the Palestinian side.
Two French journalists, Daniel Leconte and Denis Jeambar, who were shown the raw footage by France 2, also came to the same conclusion. They caused a public stir in January 2005, when they said in an editorial in the French daily, Le Figaro, that most of the scenes in the video had been staged.
Landes said he believed the child's death itself had been staged. At the moment when al-Durra was said to have been fatally shot fatally, he said, the boy was seen lifting his elbow and taking a peek.
Landes said he got some of the available television footage together and started showing it to media organizations in the U.S.
"I went to ABC, NBC, WGBH, the Boston Globe and I showed it to them and they all told me to forget it," he said.
He was given various reasons for the lack of interest. One producer said he had been convinced but there wasn't much of an "appetite" for "that." Another said the organization would have to find something the Israelis had done to provide balance and evenhandedness.
Neither Chabot nor Enderlin were present at the court hearing. France 2 based its case on written testimony about the integrity of the network and its reporter. These included a statement by President Jacques Chirac supportive of Enderlin.
In asking for the defamation charges against Karsentyto be dismissed, prosecutor Sandrine Alimi-Uzan said France 2 could have made a stronger case if it had made available the original raw footage to back its assertion that the story was not a hoax.
Following the hearing, a relieved Karsenty said his faith in the French judicial system had been restored.
"Wherever I went, people refused to listen and to look at the evidence," he said.
"This was a huge problem because the evidence was obvious -- as the public prosecutor has agreed. French society will be redeeming itself through its judicial system if the judges confirm the fact that the charges should be dropped because I showed the evidence."
The judges, who will pronounce their judgment on October 19, are not obliged to abide by the public prosecutor's recommendation.
In the meantime, Karsenty said he worried about the possibility that political pressure could have an impact on the eventual judgment.
French TV Sticks by Story That Fueled Palestinian Intifada (Feb. 2, 2005)
French TV Allegedly Using Threats to Avert Fraud Probe (Jan. 13, 2005)
TV Documentary: Palestinian 'Martyr' Likely Shot By Palestinians (April 2, 2002)
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