The AFP Can Count to Four

Posted by John Rosenthal

Gilead Ini writing last week on the excellent media watch site CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) notes a highly curious example of the AFP “doctoring” a Times of London report seemingly to fit the Middle East policy orientations of the French Foreign Ministry. Whereas the original Times piece reported that the US had proposed a “Gaddafi deal” for normalization of relations with Syria comprising four specific demands, the AFP managed via an editorial legerdemain to retain the number four while in fact dropping one of the demands: namely, that the Syrian regime cease support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As has been touched upon previously on Trans-Int, the French Foreign Ministry has a conspicuously indulgent attitude to Hezbollah, which it refuses to qualify as a terrorist organization. And while Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been placed on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, this did not prevent EU officials from recently having highly publicized “technical diplomatic contacts” with Hamas. As I noted in my June post on the subject, the EU has in fact long maintained less publicized contacts with Hamas. Moreover, as Matthias Küntzel points out in his article on Road Map diplomacy in the Trans-Int Quarterly (see note 22), when Hamas was placed on the EU list in September 2003, then French Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin took the trouble to stress that the EU ban did not extend to Hamas-affiliated “social organizations”. 

 Anyone who still believes that the AFP or Agence France Presse is the “independent” source of information that it is supposed to be according to its statutes might consider that the statutes in question are in fact a French law. Yes, unlike rival wire services such as Reuters or AP, the AFP was in fact “created” – or, more exactly, its status was fixed – by law. The assurances of “independence” and “objectivity” that one finds in the AFP’s statutes thus deserve to be taken about as seriously as similar assurances that one might find, for instance, in the statutes of the Cuban news agency Granma. Moreover, the law in question of 10 January 1957 specifies that the AFP cannot be dissolved either except by a specific law of the French parliament (Article 14). If the AFP is unable to meet its financial obligations, the French government is called upon to propose either such a law dissolving the AFP or a law to assure its finances. In any case, the French state already assumes a substantial part – currently estimated at 40% – of the finances of the AFP in the form of “subscriptions” to its services.

As the French media watch organization Acmedias has noted [link in French], the French state is also “very present” within the internal structures of the AFP:

Three representatives of the public service clients of the AFP have seats in its Administrative Council. These representatives are named by respectively the Prime Minister, The Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Economics and Finance. Of the 8 members of the Supervisory Council [charged precisely with guaranteeing the AFP's "independence" - JR], we find one member of the State Council [France's highest administrative authority], one magistrate of the Supreme Court [Cour de Cassation], and two personalities that have “represented France abroad” [plus a representative of French public television and radio - JR]. Finally, it is well known that the appointment of the CEO of the AFP cannot occur without the consent of the highest authorities of the state. This appointment is the subject of long negotiations.

Acmedias points out, furthermore, that among French state agencies, “the principal client of the AFP remains the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” and poses the question: “Is this the reason why the political line of the Quai d’Orsay sometimes – often – serves as the editorial line of the AFP?”

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