I have told you countless times that we French are different. We can do things that the rest of the world only dream of doing. In fact, we can even make people come back from the dead. For instance, yesterday, the leading news agency AFP (Agence France Presse) announced the death of French billionaire Martin Bouygues. This was big news, and the rumour spread fast on the Net -as you would expect. Martin Bouygues is one of France’s industrial leaders, and such a news would inevitably impact the French economy, the share price of his company, and so on, and so forth. In short, it was a big deal, and could have massive consequences.
Except that there was one tiny detail: Martin Bouygues was alive and well. At least that’s what he tweeted. And his company formally denied that he was dead. Apparently, the AFP got it completely wrong, and got confused because someone of the same age died in the village he was from. The AFP apologised profusely for their mistake, and promised that they would investigate what went wrong. That said, I have just had a look at Yahoo News and it still says that Martin Bouygues died on 28th of February 2015. It looks like things got out of hands. You don’t know who to believe these days, right? Is he dead, or is he alive and well? It really makes you wonder. I know that we will all die eventually, but let’s say it once and for all: this is a massive cockup.
So what happened? Well, I am fully aware that we all make mistakes, but it seems to me that we all got hung up on fast information and easy scoops. I couldn’t help thinking that we French, of all people, should know that information is just like food: it needs to be carefully weighed and prepared. Maybe we need to come back to good, old-fashioned and well-evidenced articles, and stop wanting to analyse the world in 140 characters. Yep, let’s take it slow for once.
I couldn’t help thinking that, in the United States, there would be a lawsuit. Probably not in France. We shall see. I am sure that there will be some gentlemen’s agreement, and that heads will roll eventually, but ordinary French citizen like me will never know what type of arrangement was agreed. Things are very incestuous in my home country. I must admit that I have always respected AFP: they are supposed to be independent, and have a specific status to guarantee this (amongst other things, they don’t have private shareholders, but are supposed to be independent from the Government ). That said, what has happened clearly proves that independence doesn’t necessarily pair up with competence. To make matters that little bit more complicated, Martin Bouygues’ company is the major shareholder of TF1 (one of the main TV channels in France). TF1 denied that Martin Bouygues was dead minutes after the AFP had sent the cable announcing his death. In a conspiracy movie, that’s how one big news corporation would have tricked a rival. Don’t get me wrong: I doubt that this is what happened here, but clearly AFP’ mistake will threaten their special status, and will probably reignite the debate of their privatisation (this is an on-going issue in France).
Whatever happens, I am not proud of the way we just accept news as universal truths. And I hope that AFP will get its act together. What about you, what do you think of the whole incident?