Jordanian newspaper editor slams AFP over handling of Muhammad cartoons story

The editor of a Jordanian newspaper has accused Agence France-Presse of mistakes that led to a national scandal and threats on his life during the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in 2005.

Jehad Momani, the fomer editor-in-chief of Shihane, said that AFP falsely reported that his was the first newspaper in Jordan to republish the cartoons satirising the Muslim prophet, though he claimed five Jordanian papers had already published them.

The cartoons, one of which showed Muhammad as a bomb-toting terrorist, first appeared in Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. They were not published by any UK national or regional newspaper.

Speaking at a debate on press freedom at the World Association of Newspapers World Editors Forum in Sweden yesterday, Momani said: ‘They said that my newspaper was the first to re-publish the cartoon but there were at least five publications before me in Jordan – three dailies and two weeklies.

‘This was a nightmare from which I am still suffering. I cannot forget the threats on my life and my family’s life from the cowards that are scared to reveal their identity.’

Momani said AFP then reported, against his wishes, the threat to his life. ‘The reporter said ‘They will kill you’ and I asked them not to reveal the news that I was at risk, but their hunger for popularity was more important than the threat to life.”

AFP has since robustly defending its reporting and said that none of the allegations made against it by Jehad Momani are true.

Agence France-Presse director Denis Hault contacted Press Gazette and said: “AFP never wrote that his newspaper was the first to publish the cartoons. In fact, AFP reported that a rival Jordanian tabloid claimed to be the first Arab newspaper to publish them.

“AFP never reported that his life was at risk. In fact, in a tape-recorded interview with AFP, we told Mr. Momani that his comments to us could provoke a reaction from extremists and asked if he was certain he wanted us to publish them. He said ‘yes’.

“AFP’s reporting of the matter has been fair, accurate, well sourced and balanced. We are proud of our coverage of this story and we stand fully behind our journalists and the stories they wrote.”

Momani also criticised Western media for re-publishing the Muhammad cartoons and said a Europe-wide campaign of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten – which saw papers such as El Pais and La Republique re-publish the offensive image – was encouraging a ‘clash of civilisations”.

He said: ‘This is what we call fairness – the most important thing is to keep journalism objective. Otherwise, offensive campaigns will affect our efforts to build bridges between our civilisations.”

Also on the panel were Ulf Johansson, editor-in-chief of Swedish regional paper Nerike Allehande, and Philippe Val, editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, who both sparked controversy in their countries by publishing the cartoons.

Video from the World Editors Forum press freedom round table

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