France: The Al-Dura Defamation Case and the End of Free Speech

France: The Al-Dura Defamation Case and the End of Free Speech

In the title of an article that appeared in the French weekly Valeurs Actuelles in December 2005, the journalist Michel Gurfinkiel asked "Is Freedom of Speech under Threat in France?" Gurfinkiel's question was prompted by threats of legal action against French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. In an interview with the Israeli paper Haaretz, Finkielkraut had made observations on last fall's riots in the French banlieues that his detractors denounced as racist "incitement." Nearly one year on, and following the judgment of a Parisian court in a high profile defamation case, there is no longer room for doubt. Public discourse in France is increasingly subjected to restrictions incompatible with a free society.

On Oct. 19, the 17th chamber of the Parisian county court (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris) found Philippe Karsenty, director of the French media watchdog organization Media-Ratings, guilty of having defamed the French public television channel France2 and France2's star Middle East correspondent, Charles Enderlin. The litigious texts concern France2's famous and by many accounts -- not only Philippe Karsenty's -- infamous news report of Sept. 30, 2000, apparently showing a defenseless Palestinian boy being shot dead in a hail of Israeli fire. This is at least how viewers would have been led to interpret the scene by the voice-over of Enderlin:

Three PM. Everything has begun to degenerate near the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have fired with live ammunition. The Israelis respond. Ambulance teams, journalists and simple passers-by are caught in the cross-fire. Here Jamal and his son Mohammed are the target of fire coming from the Israeli position. Mohammed is twelve years old. His father tries to protect him. He signals. But there is a new burst of fire. Mohammed is dead and his father is badly wounded.

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