No First Amendment Here: French Court Finds Me Guilty in Al-Dura Affair
I’ll have to pay the 7,000 euros.
On June 26, the Paris Court of Appeals found me guilty of defamation against television station France 2 and broadcaster Charles Enderlin.
After waiting one long week following the verdict, I was finally able to get the written arguments of the judges. The arguments state that -- despite the hoax eventually becoming obvious to all who looked at the case -- I was found guilty for having said that the al-Dura news report was a hoax … too early, in November 2004.
Had I published that exact same article today now that the facts are clear, I would not have been found guilty. Interestingly, the Court of Appeals did not ask me to remove the original article from my website. (You can still read it here: "France 2 : Arlette Chabot et Charles Enderlin doivent être démis de leurs fonctions immédiatement.")
Though technically a legal defeat, the decision is a step forward for my ultimate goal of having the truth revealed about the al-Dura hoax. I fully agree with French author Michel Onfray: “The judges apply the law, they don’t tell what is fair or right.” This verdict confirmed that France 2 still doesn’t have a single piece of evidence to substantiate their al-Dura report. The judges had to reverse the burden of the evidence -- using the extremely restrictive French defamation laws -- to prevent France 2 from having to produce any evidence to confirm the report’s authenticity, and to temporarily block the recognition of the hoax.
French taxpayer money has been used to silence legitimate and necessary criticism of France 2’s disinformation.
This verdict further established that the only witness of the al-Dura news report -- the France 2 cameraman -- contradicted himself: contrary to what Charles Enderlin repeated many times, the cameraman does not have the images of the child’s agony. Moreover, the Court of Appeals agreed that France 2’s reluctance to show their raw footage (you can watch it here) makes their story doubtful.
Despite these successes, all is not well following this verdict, of course. The most problematic issue is that the verdict grants French journalists the privilege of being free from criticism regardless of their work’s authenticity. Indeed, the French authorities which should have forced France 2 to correct their fake report refused to act. The high authority which controls TV broadcasts -- along with most of the French media outlets, French politicians, and the French judges -- circled the wagons to protect a hoax which looks more and more like a state lie.
The verdict is written with the same terminology and bias as France 2’s written arguments. It also could have been released prior to the additional January 16, 2013 audience -- nothing in this verdict has not already been written by judges in earlier arguments. It’s a mystery as to why they had to postpone the publication of the verdict twice, and why it took them so long -- more than five months -- to deliver this predictable verdict.
Further, the Court of Appeals ignored important and decisive information, and removed some of my words from context -- sometimes transforming them -- to be able to find me guilty of defamation. For example, the verdict claims that I accused France 2 and Charles Enderlin of having deliberately staged the al-Dura hoax, whereas I clearly claimed the opposite in my article with this sentence:
Charles Enderlin is mistaken, so he mistakes us.
This sentence, of upmost relevance to the charge, was completely ignored by the judges.
The verdict also does not take into account all the witnesses who testified on January 2013. It ignored Esther Schapira, who testified of conversations which took place between us long before I published my article. My own investigation, my demonstration, my research, my sources, my discoveries, and the pieces of evidence which I had before November 2004 have been completely ignored.
The verdict thus rejects the right of any citizen to count on his own perceptions and common sense, and to express his ideas publicly. For example: how is it possible that the al-Duras were shot 15 times by high-velocity bullets without having a single drop of blood on their bodies, their clothes, or the wall on which they were leaned? Expressing this common-sense thought now rises to the level of defamation.
The court agreed that I met a few people who had seen France 2 raw footages before I published my article, but they remembered -- once correctly -- that when some of these people witnessed at the court in Paris upon my request, they refused to declare that the report was a hoax. When heard by the court in September 2006, Richard Landes only agreed to declare that “the images which were broadcast were doubtful,” and added that he “was not certain of anything but that there were some mistakes which fed the controversy.”
So what does the future hold?
The verdict, which follows many others on al-Dura which were politically motivated, doesn’t leave me optimistic about the French judicial system. The investigation to discover the truth of the al-Dura report is now over: we have enough pieces of evidence to determine it to be a hoax. But these trials have shown that French defamation laws prevent freedom of speech. A French citizen cannot criticize freely -- without any risk of legal hassles -- a media outlet which broadcast false information. This reality allows powerful media outlets to judicially harass those who dare to alert on their misconducts.
Considering that, this fight to establish the truth might need to be taken up in places other than the French courts, and maybe in other countries.
As the French courts reject any competence to determine the authenticity of the al-Dura news report, it seems that only an independent, free, and transparent investigation committee will be able to decide if al-Dura was a hoax or not. France 2 and Charles Enderlin agreed to participate in this future commission.
(Those of you who would like to read a copy of the verdict: email me at [email protected].)