Correspondent / behind the news

Eric Schwab, photographing the unspeakable

Friday 13 February 2015 Decoding

A prisoner dying of dysentery at the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald upon the liberation of the camp by Allied troops on 11 April 1945 ( AFP PHOTO / ERIC SCHWAB)

"It comes down to a few dozen pictures by Eric Schwab, preserved in the Agence France-Presse archives," writes AFP's archives director Yves Gacon. "An insignificant number in a photographic fund of more than 30 million digital documents and seven million analog files. But whose value in historical terms is inestimable. One of the first photographers at the modern-day AFP, Eric Schwab was among the very first witnesses to the boundless horror that Allied forces uncovered as they advanced into Germany, liberating the death camps one after the other. Schwab formed a partnership with the American writer and journalist Meyer Levin, travelling together into the darkness on board their jeep 'Spirit of Alpena'. Both were on a painful quest, Levin to investigate the fate of Europe’s Jews in World War II, and Schwab to find his mother who was deported in 1943."

(AFP Photo / Eric Schwab)

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The climate logo Rorschach test

Friday 16 January 2015 Decoding

A banner announcing the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, the Cop 21 summit in Paris, on January 14, 2015. (AFP PHOTO /JACQUES DEMARTHON)

"Each year, the country that hosts the UN's conference on climate change dishes out a wad of cash on a logo. The usual request to graphic designers is to provide something cosy. Something planetary. We-are-the-worldish. Whether all the hugginess works is another matter," writes AFP science, health and environment coordinator Richard Ingham. "Take the logo unveiled this week by France, where 195 countries are supposed to seal a historic pact in December. Is it a leaf nibbled by an ant? The Eiffel Tower, melting under a scorching Sun? Or a drop of biofuel, representing a greener, cleaner future?"

(AFP Photo / Jacques Demarthon)

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Raising the cost of lies, across two continents

Tuesday 25 November 2014 Decoding

A graffiti in a street of Buenos Aires in October 2014 (Photo: Peter Cunliffe-Jones)

Fact-checking – not simply reporting accurately what people say but investigating, and reporting on, the accuracy of what they say – has been around for a while. It is said by most to have developed as a major force in the United States in 2004 with the creation of the website, followed a few years later by In the recent years, it has spread to Africa and Latin America, two regions where lack of trust both in politicians to tell the truth and in traditional media to report it are endemic, writes Peter Cunliffe-Jones, founder and director of Africacheck, Africa's first fact-checking website, and deputy director of the AFP Foundation.

(AFP Photo / Peter Cunliffe-Jones)

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Rare moment in spotlight for Romania’s Saxons

Thursday 20 November 2014 Decoding

Klaus Iohannis adresses the media shortly after exit polls of the second round of Romania's presidential elections were announced in Bucharest on November 16, 2014 (AFP Photo / Daniel Mihailescu)

"Likely it was news to many that there even is an ethnic German minority in Romania", writes Stuart Williams, an AFP reporter now based in Istanbul. "A community that proudly dates back its history to the twelfth century, that once numbered hundreds of thousands of people and for long defiantly held onto traditions that had evaporated elsewhere."

"But the surprise victory of Sibiu mayor Klaus Iohannis, a member of Romania’s German minority, in the weekend’s presidential elections was a startling reminder of the existence of the community, who are known as the Transylvanian Saxons (Siebenbuerger Sachsen in German). It was also a sign that the community -- which has reduced at least ten fold in size since before World War II -- had defied predictions of its imminent demise."

(AFP Photo / Daniel Mihailescu)

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In Hong Kong, echoes of Berlin

Thursday 2 October 2014 Decoding

Des milliers de jeunes Berlinois de l'Est escaladent le mur près de la porte de Brandebourg, le 11 novembre 1989 (AFP / Gérard Malie)

"There are of course plenty of reasons to say Berlin in 1989 and Hong Kong in 2014 are not comparable, yet they share intriguing similarities", writes Richard Ingham, who covered for AFP the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the handback of Hong Kong to China in 1997. "Enclaves, by the quirk of history that made them, are usually special places with a specific identity, often owing more loyalty to themselves than to the country that lays claim to them."

(AFP Photo / Gérard Malie)

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Editing images of ‘hell’, in close-up

Wednesday 1 October 2014 Decoding

An editor at work at AFP's Middle East and North Africa photo desk in Nicosia (AFP Photo / Florian Choblet)

The photo and video editors in Nicosia, AFP's headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa, have to face a daily flood of unbearable images. It is their job to pore over the images from Syria, from Iraq, Gaza, Libya and other regional hotspots, and decide whether or not to publish them. It is their job to take in, for hours at a stretch each day, images of mutilated bodies, of wounded children screaming in pain, and -- more recently -- of hostages being beheaded.

Much of this ultra-violent imagery is unfit for publication under the criteria that AFP sets itself, and will end up in the bin. But not without inflicting a kind of repetitive shock to the journalists who have viewed it.

(AFP Photo / Florian Choblet)

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Covering the "Islamic State"

Wednesday 17 September 2014 Decoding

An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (IS) on September 2, 2014 shows a masked militant holding a knife as he speaks to the camera ibefore beheading US reporter Steven Sotloff (AFP Photo / HO / Site Intelligence Group)

Faced with the kidnap and murder of journalists in Syria, Iraq and Africa, and the flood of horrific propaganda images spewed out by the "Islamic State" group and its offshoots, it is time to reaffirm some ethical and editorial groundrules.

Our challenge is to strike a balance between our duty to inform the public, the need to keep our reporters safe, our concern for the dignity of victims being paraded by extremists, and the need to avoid being used as a vehicle for hateful, ultraviolent propaganda.

AFP's Global News Director Michèle Léridon explains what the events of recent months have changed in the work environment of a global news agency such as AFP, and how we have responded.

(AFP Photo / HO / Site Intelligence Group)

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Applying the "bullshit test"

Thursday 5 June 2014 Decoding

A State billboard campaigning against rumour mongering in Yenagoa, Nigeria's southern Bayelsa State, in April 10, 2013 (AFP / Pius Utomi Ekpei)

If we are honest, fact-checking has rarely been considered a glamour gig in journalism. But things in the field are changing, writes Peter Cunliffe-Jones, who oversees the South Africa-based fact-checking organisation Africa Check.

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Chasing shadows: Kim and Kanye in France

Tuesday 3 June 2014 Decoding

Kim Kardashian stands in front of a vehicule with a stroller as she leaves her hotel on May 23, 2014 in Paris (AFP / Kenzo Tribouillard)

More accustomed to covering riots, trials and drug stories in the Parisian suburbs than tracking VIPs, AFP reporters Estelle Emonet and Nathalie Alonso suddenly found themselves hunting for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West when speculation reached fever pitch that the celebrity couple would celebrate their wedding in France.

(Photo: AFP / Kenzo Tribouillard)

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Spinning wheels: 30 years on the Tour (part II)

Tuesday 16 July 2013 Decoding


When it comes to the Tour de France, AFP cycling specialist Jean Montois has seen it all. Literally. Since 1983, his first Tour, he has not missed a single stage of a single race over the three decades. Here he talks about what has changed, and not always for the better.

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Whirlwind peace drive: Kerry in job of his life

Sunday 7 July 2013 Decoding

US Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the press regarding his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the US Embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 2, 2013.

AFP's Washington-based Shaun Tandon tagged along with John Kerry on the US Secretary of State's most recent road trip, this one to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Watching Kerry in action makes one wonder: has the former presidential hopeful found his true calling? (AFP Photo/pool/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Syria: deadly for journalists too

Thursday 2 May 2013 Decoding

An image grab taken from a video on YouTube on October 1, 2012 shows American freelance journalist  Austin Tice, 31-years-old,  blindfolded with men believed to be his captors at an undisclosed location in Syria.

Gathering news in Syria has become a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, assignment, whether for foreign correspondents, Syrian reporters or a growing legion of 'citizen journalists' who relay what they witness via Facebook and Twitter. AFP has recently tightened its rules for fielding reports from Syria, part of an effort to avoid undue risk. (AFP Photo/HO/Youtube)

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Ave Francis!

Thursday 21 March 2013 Decoding

This picture shows paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel ahead of a cardinals conclave on March 9, 2013 at the Vatican.

“We knew we were getting too close to the story when the photographer shadowing the pope called the office shouting, ‘He's walking, he's walking!’,” recalls AFP correspondent Gina Doggett, who flew into Rome to cover the ritual-laden selection of a new pontifex maximus. Even hard-bitten journalists, she reports, were in danger of losing themselves in pope minutiae. (AFP Photo/Gabriel Bouys)

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Diplomacy's digital digerati tweet on Chavez

Thursday 7 March 2013 Decoding

A supporter of the leftist FMLN political party joins hundreds of people gathered  in San Salvador del Mundo Square, San Salvador,  following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 5, 2013.

The burgeoning realm of digital diplomacy – in which Hugo Chavez played a leading role – is coursing with observations, comments and speculation as Venezuela prepares to lay it’s president of 14 years to rest on Friday. Here is a sampling of the tweets generated by AFP’s the e-diplomacy hub, a Twitter-based application powered by a database stocked with 4,500 individually validated accounts, making it a Who’s Who of foreign relations in the era of social networks. (AFP Photo/Marvin Recinos)

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NY 'cannibal cop' skewered, but where's the beef?

Thursday 28 February 2013 Decoding

A newspaper reader in New York scanning stories about the so-called 'cannibal cop' on February 28, 2013.

The case of New York’s would-be ‘cannibal cop’ is an all-you-can-bleat feast for the city’s hardboiled headline writers: “Cop Fantasy: She’s Kebab”, “Chef of Police,” “Knaw and Order,” “Finest Young Cannibal” are some of the morsels served up so far. But there's a legal conundrum too: can one be tried & convicted for a fantasy, no matter how twisted? AFP correspondent Sebastian Smith taste tests the story. (AFP Photo)

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Cued by US, France’s pro-lifers shift tactics

Thursday 21 February 2013 Decoding

Screenshot of French abortion information website

Stumbling across websites in French on the highly-charged subject of abortion that seemed to be neutral but were anything but led AFP reporters Julie Charpentrat and Isabelle Tourne to dig deeper into the increasingly sophisticated tactics of France’s anti-abortion activists, who have clearly taken a page from the playbook of their US counterparts. 

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Tunisia on the edge

Friday 8 February 2013 Decoding

People carry the coffin of late opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession which makes its way to the nearby cemetery of El-Jellaz where Belaid is to be buried on February 8, 2013 in the Djebel Jelloud district, a suburb of Tunis.

Tunisia's capital has come to a near standstill on Friday, paralyzed by a general strike and the burial of an opposition leader whose murder has plunged the country into political crisis and a new cycle of violence. Diplomats, experts and activists are expressing and exchanging views on Twitter as the funeral procession unfolds. Here's a sampling of real-time tweets on Tunisia drawn from the 4,500 hand-picked Twitter accounts embedded in AFP's the e-diplomacy hub.

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Twitter diplomacy in action

Tuesday 29 January 2013 Decoding


Agence France Presse has designed a tool to monitor what the world’s top foreign policy actors – from presidents and diplomats to experts, activists and even illegal armed groups – are saying on Twitter about breaking news.  Whether the civil war in Syria, the French incursion into Mali or VIP chatter at Davos, AFP’s Tweet Wire opens a real-time window onto the realm of digital diplomacy. The tweets are generated by AFP's The e-diplomacy Hub, a Twitter-based application powered by a database with 4,500 individually-validated accounts -- a Who’s Who of social network-based international relations.

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Journalism in the digital era: lessons learned

Monday 28 January 2013 Decoding

A screenshot of Prashant Rao's blog on 28 January 2013.

"Why do I create excessively-long alpha-numeric passwords and back up all my data like a maniac to different online and offline locations?", AFP Baghdad Bureau Chief Prashant Rao asks. An avid blogger, Rao spends his downtime learning how to leverage the Web as a journalist. While teaching a week-long course on digital skills, he was attacked by a hacker and reminded why it's worth trying to tame that great beast, the Internet. (Screenshot:

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No turning back: India rape case a watershed

Friday 25 January 2013 Decoding

In this photograph taken on December 23, 2012 an Indian demonstrator (C) taunts the police during a protest calling for better safety for women following the rape of a student last week, in front the India Gate monument in New Delhi.

The vicious gang rape in India’s capital in December of a 23-year old woman, who later died of her injuries, sparked revulsion and mass protests in a country where rampant sex attacks had, up to then, received scant notice from the justice system or the media. AFP New Delhi correspondent Rupam Jain Nair reflects on why this case has become a watershed, and how it has changed her approach to the issue and, perhaps, her job.(AFP PHOTO/ Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

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