According to a September 2016 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to 32 percent, its lowest level in Gallup polling history. But even the most jaded among us should be shocked to learn that Agence France-Presse (AFP), the third largest international news agency after AP and Reuters, has no qualms about employing Nasser Abu Bakr for over a decade as a reporter on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
Abu Bakr is a Palestinian political operative and aspiring politician, architect of a campaign to boycott and intimidate Israeli journalists and a man who recently ran for elected office on the Palestinian Fatah Revolutionary Council.
As chairman of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Abu Bakr has publicly declared that his sole mission is to “combat normalization” with Israel by calling for a boycott of Israeli media. He protested against Al-Quds, a Palestinian newspaper, for daring to run an Israeli advertisement and threatened Palestinian leadership with “publish(ing) the name of any official who gives an interview to their (Israeli) media.” His goal: to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the public.
Under his leadership, PJS labels their Israeli colleagues the “mouthpiece” for the “occupation.” And his accusation that Israel perpetrates “Nazi and racists crimes” reveals his extreme hatred for the Jews.
Baker’s syndicate was actively involved in events that generated news articles. AFP reported Israel’s arrest of Muhammad al-Qiq for terrorist activity while the PJS campaigned for his immediate release.
Abu Bakr’s dual roles as Palestinian political operative and AFP correspondent for Israeli-Palestinian affairs constitute an egregious conflict of interest.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a non-partisan media-monitoring organization “promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East” broke the story about Abu Baker’s employment at AFP. CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal has written about Abu Baker’s political activities in great detail, but the Agency has done nothing to rectify the problem other than temporarily suspending their tainted “journalist” for one week for running for public office.
In a 2016 article, Yves Mamou, a French journalist with twenty years at Le Monde, offers an explanation for AFP’s inaction. Why should they fire Abu Bakr, he argues, when the pro-Palestinian bias of AFP is so glaring that many in France have renamed the news agency “Agence France Palestine”?
According to Mamou, AFP systematically delegitimizes Israel in the eyes of readers — always referring to the disputed territories (aka West Bank) as “Palestinian occupied territory”—always describing East Jerusalem as “annexed and occupied by Israel.” Cyprus, Tibet, Crimea and other annexed or occupied territories are not described in a similar manner. News from AFP never mentions that Palestinians shout “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is the Greatest”) while stabbing and shooting Israelis, leaving the impression that they are freedom fighters rather than murderers killing in the name of Allah. And the language AFP uses when referring to Israelis leaves the impression that they are oppressors of helpless Palestinians.
To detect media bias, it’s necessary to examine the source of the information reported, the point of view of the reporter, whether the reporter or news agency is holding one group to a standard different from others, whether the most impactful message of a story is implied rather than explicitly stated, and whether important context is missing and the language used is emotionally charged. AFP fails most if not all of these tests with respect to Israel.
Haym Salomon Center reached out to AFP’s Jerusalem bureau for comment on this article but has received no response.
If criticism from media watchdogs like CAMERA does not motivate AFP and other news organizations (think AP, Reuters, BBC, The New York Times) to address the pandemic media bias against Israel, then we must continue to expose their malfeasance to public scorn — and expect those Gallup polls to continue dropping.
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. She has a Master of Arts degree in public law and government from Columbia University and an A.B. in political science from Vassar College.