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Inside AFP

AFP’s global network meets the challenge of COVID-19

The Covid-19 pandemic is the archetypal global story – affecting every country, permeating every topic, absorbing all the news.  The “butterfly effect”, synonymous with globalisation, has found an illustration in this global story – in the impact of a mysterious cough in Wuhan on toilet paper stockpiling in Los Angeles. Even 9/11, to which this story has been compared in terms of its emotional charge, did not affect so many people around the world in their daily lives.

In telling this global story, AFP’s network of 201 bureaux and 1,700 journalists demonstrates the advantage of having the closest possible presence on the ground.  AFP was the only international agency present in Wuhan at the beginning of the crisis. It went on to tell the story of how the lockdown began, domino after domino, and is now telling the story of how the lockdown is being lifted – a timid process and one that could always be reversed – reporting from public transport, from shops, from schools and from the first entertainment venues to reopen – yes, some are reopening…

The agency’s journalists are committed to showing the similarities and differences in responses, the failings of the global village as well as its resilience. They tell local stories that resonate globally, about the vulnerability of Amazonian tribes and about the evacuation of patients from Mulhouse hospitals. With specific stories, they try to illustrate what the world could be like afterward, with “just in time” trade flows replaced by the “just in case” principle.

All of AFP’s teams have shown an exceptionally intense and enduring commitment. I am not alone in applauding this commitment: for months, we have been receiving encouraging messages from clients around the world. Television stations, print publications, radio stations, portals – large and small, whose ability to report on the ground has in some cases been curtailed or taken away entirely -- talk to us about our responsiveness, about the variety of topics we cover, about the diversity of formats we offer and about the richness of our multimedia coverage. With its infection database, the agency has completed its text-photo-video palette with a recognised breakthrough in infographics.  Now more than ever, we are our clients’ eyes and ears, supporting their coverage wherever they do not have a presence, wherever they are unable to go.

This client feedback generally emphasises a distinctive factor to which we are especially dedicated: the “human touch” of AFP reporting, reflected by the constant desire to give a human face to the “invisible enemy”. Lastly, as the pandemic is an open-air laboratory for the propagation of fake news, the agency’s investment in digital verification is helping fulfil our mission of public interest. We have so far uncovered more than a thousand items of fake news on the virus, thanks to an unequalled network of 80 expert journalists working in 14 languages.

Because the crisis is exceptional in its duration, we must be able to stay the course. We must maintain our early enthusiasm and not allow it to be eroded by our new working conditions: this is our challenge.

AFP’s strength is its network, whose geographical imprint makes it almost unique. And of course, as a general news agency, AFP has the capacity to treat a subject from all angles. With severe restrictions on travel and unfortunately with hard-hit media outlets probably having to make cutbacks, our objective is simple: to offer our clients an essential service.

Fabrice Fries, Chairman & CEO of AFP