François Bugingo admits to fabricating his international reporting

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.

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.

The story has legs as far as MexicoUruguay and Australia, thanks to being picked up by AFP.

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.

Projet J also has an interview with Hachey.

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.

Projet J spoke with media managers about how they can prevent similar cases in the future.

And a Métro contributor writes about his shock at the news about his friend.

13 thoughts on “François Bugingo admits to fabricating his international reporting

  1. Lorne

    It sounds so unbelievable that he did all these things that they should have been suspicious sooner.

  2. Steve Reisch

    Unfortunately, La Presse story has many flaws. It takes a bunch of holes in the story as proofs that he lied.

    He did lied. He admitted it. But La Presse decided to add a layer by presenting premisses that could be true or could not be true, but presented them in a way that makes think that Bugingo lied on these too. It is not honest from La Presse. When you attack someone credibility you have to make sure you are making only solid assumptions.

    François Bugingo a souvent répété être « devenu un homme » lorsqu’il s’est rendu au Rwanda, à 20 ans, pour couvrir le génocide du printemps 1994. Ses reportages sont introuvables. Il dit en avoir écrits – sans les signer – pour un défunt hebdomadaire burundais, en plus d’alimenter le journaliste français Jean Hélène, de Radio France Internationale (RFI). Jean Hélène est mort en 2003. François Bugingo soutient avoir écrit des « résumés » que Jean Hélène intégrait à ses reportages sur le génocide. «Jean ne nous a jamais demandé de rémunérer l’un de ses informateurs», s’étonne Christophe Boisbouvier, reporter vétéran de l’Afrique à RFI. «Le nom de M. Bugingo ne dit rien aux anciens

    REACTION: People don’t remember many things that happened last year, imagine when it happened 20 years ago. If Bugingo did help as a freelancer or an intern the RFI reporter, not many would remember that 20 years later. The person who could testify died. The other colleagues in Paris? They would certainly not remember what happened on the ground. In the archives? Honestly, if a 20 years old help a veteran reporter as a stringer, his byline wont be in the story. Do you see stringers name often in the paper?

    EXAMPLE2 François Bugingo affirme avoir fait une interview téléphonique avec Toke Agerschou, responsable d’un «programme très spécial anti-radicalisation». Toke Agerschou ne se souvient ni de cette interview ni de François Bugingo. En outre, il ne parle pas français, et n’accorde que très peu d’entrevues en anglais, une langue qu’il maîtrise mal.

    REACTION: A lot of public figures forget that they give interviews to a specific individual. A normal citizen that is not asked to do conferences, public speeches and give interviews will probably remember, public figures? Its not sure, especially if a reporter made a quick call and the conversation lasted 5-10 minutes, in broken english. Does it mean this material could not be used for a short piece on a blog or that it didn’t happen?

    This last assumption could be verified though. La Presse could have asked Mr Agerschou to provide his call registry to check if he did receive a call from Bugingo phone at the beginning of the year. It would have provided more credibility to this example.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Honestly, if a 20 years old help a veteran reporter as a stringer, his byline wont be in the story. Do you see stringers name often in the paper?

      Probably not. But why wouldn’t the stringer be paid? Volunteer work, or did the reporter pay him under the table? It’s possible.

      A lot of public figures forget that they give interviews to a specific individual.

      Sure. But would their PR person have no record of such an interview? They seemed pretty certain this interview didn’t happen.

      1. Dilbert

        Many stringers work for nothing or don’t even realize they are working – or do it for a lunch of whatever that isn’t even reported as “payment”. Not everyone is working on a level professional playing field. Stringers generally aren’t mentioned or bylined unless (a) it’s the publisher’s policy to list all that worked, or (b) the stringer makes an agreement that requires attribution (rare, from what I see).

        The problems for Bugingo isn’t any one of these situations, it’s the indication that he has been less than honest or somewhat misleading about things over a long period of time. Any one of these situations alone would be enough to hurt the career of a journalist. Taken as a whole, it appears that much of his career has been built on hype and deception, and not on actual content.

  3. Karine76

    What I find interesting is how recent some of his fabrications are. I would have understood had he made up some of those stories to get a job before he became a media personality but with so many high profile gigs, why make up stuff?

    1. sco100

      Precisely. Why on earth make up stuff when you’re already employed and revered? Especially when it comes to foreign affairs. I mean. it’s not exactly an overcrowded field in the French-speaking media and there’s simply no need to inflate your CV to get a job. The guy was good, and probably the best actually. No one was contesting his crown.

      What was the point of making stuff up, then?

      1. Fagstein Post author

        Why on earth make up stuff when you’re already employed and revered?

        Technically, Bugingo wasn’t employed. He was a freelancer for Cogeco and Quebecor. And his reverence appears to have come in part because of the stuff he made up.

  4. Mario D.

    Difficult to say whether what is being said about his work is all true but i do not see why another reporter would make a story about him unless she really really had something. After all, she his talking about the essence of her own job !

    I just know that whatever comes out of this will not change the fact that this guy is done like dinner. I just do not like those kind of week-end trials that start with a story,follow up with the internet rage and /or praise and then gets taken over by the proper authorities…Anyway this is another story we should explore one day,the internet court…

    Time will tell i guess but i do not think that it will take long seeing all the medias and stories involved. Everyone who knows anything will rush to make it public so they are not involved in a Brian Williams story Québec version…

    There is no easy way out of this one . If he slightly fixed and or romanced some stories to make them more media friendly it is as bad outright lies. News reporting does not allow anything else then facts, facts and facts…at least the naive side in me thinks so…

  5. Pete

    What does it matter anyway? Mainstream news is 50% B.S./Propaganda , 40% product placements and 10% irrelivancies.

  6. Earnest

    About time.. has no integrity and suprised it took this long before his below the belt behaviour caught up with him. This may give him time to reflect all the lies he has fabricated and repent, even Saul was forgiven my brother.. it is never too late for anyone, even for you


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