PARIS — For a brief moment this week, a French news site startled its readers with the news that dozens of celebrities at home and abroad had died.
On Monday, the website of Radio France Internationale mistakenly published about a hundred obituaries for prominent figures ranging from Queen Elizabeth II of England to Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend.
The long list of politicians, sports figures and cultural icons included actors like Clint Eastwood and Brigitte Bardot, national leaders such as Raúl Castro and intellectuals like Noam Chomsky.
Several hours after the obituaries first ran, the public radio station, which broadcasts in France and abroad, apologized and started taking the reports offline. It said they were unedited drafts that had been accidentally published as it moved its website to a new content management system. Tech platforms like Google and Yahoo News then automatically picked up some of the articles.
The radio station said in a statement that it wanted to “present its excuses first and foremost to those concerned by these obituaries” and who might have been hurt by the premature announcement of the deaths.
“Not everybody gets the chance to take note of one’s obituary while still alive,” Abdoulaye Wade, who was president of Senegal from 2000 to 2012, quipped on Facebook after his obituary went out. Mr. Wade, 94, published a current photo of himself dressed in blue and relaxing outside in a lawn chair.
Some French social media users expressed surprise or even outrage that RFI had already written articles about people’s deaths. But that is common practice for media organizations. The New York Times has more than 1,500 advance obituaries of well-known people ready to be quickly updated and published at the time of death.
Discerning readers quickly realized that the obituaries seemed premature. For one, important details were lacking.
“Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, died on XXXXX at the age of XXXXXXX,” one read. Others had headlines with capital-letter annotations like “REREAD 30/07” or “LAST UPDATED in JULY 2019” — common warnings left by journalists to help scrambling editors.
For Bernard Tapie, the flamboyant French businessman and former owner of the Olympique de Marseille soccer team, it was not the first, nor even the second but the third time that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.
The newspaper Le Monde accidentally published his obituary in 2019, while the sports broadcaster La Chaine L’Équipe erroneously announced his death in an onscreen news ticker earlier this year. Mr. Tapie, 77, has stomach and esophageal cancer.
Line Renaud, 92, a French actress and singer, responded to screenshots of her obituary on Twitter by declaring that she was “in great shape.”