Correspondent / behind the news

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

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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 www.ecouteivg.org.

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

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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: prashantrao.com)

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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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Digital diplomacy's digerati tweet about #Mali

Friday 25 January 2013 Decoding

A man reparing the wheel of his bicycle looks at a French armoured vehicle part of a big convoy coming from Bamako and going to Daibali (400km north of Bamako) on January 24, 2013 in Segou.

Real-time Twitter feed on Mali from AFP's the e-diplomacy hub, the Who's Who of digital diplomacy featuring the 4,500 most influential Twitter accounts in the realm of foreign policy and international relations (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg)




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Burma's long and winding road

Thursday 22 November 2012 Decoding

US President Barack Obama stands next to Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as they leave after making a speech at her residence in Yangon on November 19, 2012.

Stephen Collinson’s forays for AFP during the 1990s into Burma – renamed “Myanmar” by a brutal military junta determined to quarantine their nation from outside influence – offered veiled glimpses into one of the most repressive police states in the world.  Twenty years later, Collinson returns as White House correspondent, trailing Barack Obama, to a country opening up at startling speed and moving, albeit fitfully, toward democracy. (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

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Iraq: violence on a spreadsheet

Thursday 25 October 2012 Decoding

A car burns following a bomb attack in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk on May 19, 2011 killing at least 27 people and wounding 89, in the worst violence to hit Iraq in nearly two months.

"One of the most depressing daily tasks that we have is to track daily incidences of violence across Iraq," says AFP Baghdad bureau chief Prashant Rao. Uncooperative officials, biased information, attack sites cleaned up before forensic investigators can get a first-hand view all make the job of verifying reports "incredibly time-consuming and opaque," Rao says. Today, AFP renders public the spreadsheet it uses to tally Iraq's dead and wounded. (AFP Photo/M. Ibrahim)

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Post 9/11, media access shrivels

Monday 28 May 2012 Decoding

Police arrest protesters, many affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, during demonstration on the second day of the Nato summit on May 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.

Since 9/11, summits and high-level intergovernmental meetings everywhere -- notably in the US -- have become exercises in preventative security. That's kept the world's top officialdom safe, but has choked off the kind of informal and unscheduled contact between the media and leaders that is essential if journalists are to be more than glorified mouthpieces for political power, argues AFP's US State Department correspondent Jo Biddle. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

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NEWS FLASH: “Hollande wins French presidency”

Tuesday 8 May 2012 Decoding

AFP's top editors and CEO look on as a journalist sends the FLASH calling France's presidential election.

Sunday evening, May 6. France and the world are waiting to know whether incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy will keep his job or hand it over to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, and tension in Agence France Presse’s central newsroom – less than two hours before the last poll closes – is running high. But not just because this is a big story. This year, AFP will do something it has never done before: send out the FLASH before the voting ends. (AFP Photo/Roland de Courson)  

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AFP and the “Scooter Killer”: Behind the scoop

Saturday 24 March 2012 Decoding

The RAID team, minutes after the intervention against Merah (AFP Photo / Pascal Pavani)

“No, he’s not dead yet.”

When Remy Bellon, AFP’s veteran crime reporter, overheard those words, the blood in his veins ran cold.  Only minutes earlier he had pushed the “send” button on a global scoop – “Toulouse: suspect dead”.  It was the violent climax of a week-long drama that gripped first France, in the final throes of a presidential campaign, and then the world.

Here, a blow-by-blow account of how AFP mobilized its global, multimedia network to cover a breaking story, and a case study on how hard it is to do both – get there first, and get it right. (AFP Photo/Pascal Pavani)

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