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October 18, 2010

Shoddy journalism exposed in polygamy hoax

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 8:52 am

Jonathan Ryan reports: Journalists on the French weekly magazine Le Point have been caught out in a humiliating hoax. The current issue highlights a series of controversial topics including polygamy. There is one major problem: the victim does not exist. He is, in fact, Abdel, a young French man from Clichy-Sous-Bois, a deprived suburb of Paris!

Abdel had, before this particular report, already put the French media in contact with people within his community. One Friday afternoon, he was contacted by a journalist (used in the loosest possible sense) requesting that he find a bigamist within the community. During his previous contacts, Abdel had met with professional journalists. However, this time the journalist was up against a tight deadline and wanted the story in a hurry.

Abdel decided to see how far the matter could be pushed and found himself in a telephone interview playing himself and Bintou; an imaginary African woman, 32-years-old with eight children, married to a husband with three other wives. To add insult to injury, Abdel videoed himself recording his somewhat Monty Phython-esque performance. Certainly, a valid piece of evidence when you end up as the support for the cover story on one of France’s leading news magazines. To add insult to injury, the journalists described Bintou as having a “pretty face, apart from scarring around the eyes…”

So what was Abdel’s motive for indulging in this supremely effective hoax? In an interview with Arret sur images, a chat show on France’s Channel 5, he said he had been following the actions of certain journalists visiting his community since 2005, and in his words: “I have seen journalists with my own eyes paying for fabricated photographs, and deliberately making up witness statements.”

He had also been sickened by the portrayal of his community by the media. The largely immigrant community of Cliche-sous-Bois had been labelled as “trouble-makers” or “arsonists”. Abdel has most certainly been successful in making his point.


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