UPDATE (May 29): Bugingo admits to “romancing” stories in a long Facebook post, but still believes the “veritable lynching” by the media as a result of it was unfair.
“François Bugingo: des reportages inventés de toutes pièces” reads the headline today in La Presse: An investigative report by Isabelle Hachey reveals the Quebec journalist famous for his international reporting lied about his trips abroad and reported as first-hand accounts things he merely heard about or did not exist.
Bugingo, who is a contributor to TVA Nouvelles, 98.5 FM and the Journal de Montréal, was suspended from all three within hours of the news coming out. Quebecor terminated its relationship with him and Cogeco said it accepted his resignation. The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec is also looking into the matter. MAtv, Videotron’s community channel, yanked an episode of a special series it was going to present that same night featuring short documentaries about multiculturalism, because Bugingo acts as their mentor.
He defends himself on Facebook:
“You know very well that the news I share with you is always verified, solid and respects your attention,” he writes. “I will defend my integrity at the proper time, and through the proper forums.”
Six days later, a confession of sorts:
Hachey’s story contains statements from eight named sources who directly contradict things Bugingo has said in his reporting or in interviews about his experiences abroad.
Among the things he is accused of making up:
- Being in Misrata, Libya, and witnessing a torturer from the Gadhafi regime about to execute rebel militants.*
- Witnessing a man shooting guns during the day and playing guitar at night in Sarajevo in 1993, something he described as one of the more remarkable moments of his career. (Bugingo told La Presse he actually went to Sarajevo in 1995 with two other journalists, both of whom told La Presse that also wasn’t true.)
- Being in Iraq in 2003 and trying to sell a story to L’Actualité.
- Being a freelancer for Radio France Internationale, Agence France-Presse and Agence panafricaine de presse in the 1990s.*
- Reporting from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
- Negotiating with Al-Qa’ida terrorists in Mauritania for the release of journalists taken hostage in 2010 as part of his role as vice-president of Reporters Without Borders.*
- Being fired upon about 15 times during a convoy run in Somalia in 2011.
- Interviewing a man responsible for a Danish anti-radicalization program.
- Being sent by the European Commission to Cairo and meeting the Egyptian interior minister during the Arab Spring in 2011.*
- Training journalists in Côte d’Ivoire for the Panos Institute in 2011.
- UPDATE: Meeting Moammar Gadhafi’s son in prison in 2012, the unbelievable tale that began this investigation, according to Hachey
What’s worse is that the story quotes Bugingo contradicting himself, now denying things he earlier asserted. The items marked with * above are things he now denies he did.
For this to be a mistake it would have to be some seriously vast conspiracy. Either La Presse is lying about what he said to them, or more than half a dozen credible named sources have lied to a La Presse reporter for no apparent reason, or just about every profile of him over the past five years has misquoted him or said false things about him that he hasn’t tried to correct. And even if that’s the case, it doesn’t cover all the things he said himself on air or in stories he’s written.
Despite his woe-is-me Facebook post and holding out hope for a return to the spotlight, I think it’s fair to say François Bugingo’s career as a journalist has just ended in disgrace.
À ceux qui demandent ce qui a déclenché l'enquête: simplement de sérieux doutes suscités par la lecture de ses textes http://t.co/vcJgY5GZz4
— Isabelle Hachey (@ihachey) May 23, 2015
Because this is a La Presse report on a journalist associated with Quebecor, the inevitable accusations of foul play came up quickly. Hachey explains that she began her investigation because of doubts she had about Bugingo’s stories. And reading about all the stuff he claimed to do, it’s easy to understand why. If Bugingo had made up just one or two stories, maybe nobody would have investigated. But when you become a serial fabulist, you lay the fibres of the noose your career ends up hanging from.
Reaction from journalists has been one of shock. Even by some journalists who know him personally.
The French media are all over this story. CBC has picked it up in English, and CTV too, and more will likely follow as the fallout from this continues (Montreal Gazette, Canadaland). International sites that specialize in media will also no doubt pick up this story. iMediaEthics already has one.
Bugingo has a lawyer who says he is taking a step back from public life while he prepares a response to the report. He says he has committed himself to defending his integrity and proving his professionalism, though he doesn’t directly deny anything that’s been reported about him.
Monday on the radio, Benoît Dutrizac was noticeably emotional as he said he was angry with Bugingo, but seemed to defend his friend, saying lying in this industry is common, attacking the credibility of Hachey’s sources and demanding she produce a transcript of her interview with Bugingo.
UPDATE (June 7): Patrick Lagacé at La Presse and Gabrielle Brassard-Lecours at Ricochet point to a related issue, which is that the private media (and TVA in particular) is always hungry for content and doesn’t want to pay for quality international reporting. It doesn’t excuse what Bugingo did, but it does help explain how the media fell for it so easily. Lagacé also points out that Bugingo wasn’t just a fabulist on the air.