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Award-winning French TV report comes under scrutiny

Paris - The French television establishment, already embroiled in a virulent ratings war, was engaged in deep soul-searching yesterday after the winner of this year's top French media prize had it "suspended" following questions about the veracity of her winning report, writes Mary Dejevsky.

The jury of the Albert Londres prize decided that part of Marie-Monique Robin's report, a television documentary about international trafficking in transplant organs made for the respected Capa company, should be examined further before the prize was finally confirmed or withdrawn.

The programme, "Eye-robbers", purportedly told the story of a Colombian, Jaison, 13, who became blind after an eye operation. His mother claimed his corneas had been removed unnecessarily and sold by corrupt doctors on an international black market. Although the episode occupied only five minutes of the hour-long documentary, it caused a stir in France and precipitated a diplomatic dispute with Colombia.

A subsequent medical report, compiled by French doctors at the insistence of the Colombian authorities, found the boy had lost his sight at the age of five months because of an infection and not because his corneas had been stolen. Publication of the report on Monday prompted an emergency meeting of the Albert Londres awards jury, which decided to suspend the award and institute a further inquiry.

Ms Robin issued a statement saying she would co-operate fully with the inquiry and had full confidence in her "fellow investigative journalists" to conduct it. The Capa production company said it had full confidence in Ms Robin and would support her.

Although other prize-winning journalists have been accused of falsification or fabrication, the most celebrated being the Washington Post's Janet Cooke for her Pulitzer- Prize-winning article about a young drug addict, this is the first time such questions have been raised in France, and the suspension of the Albert Londres award is without precedent.