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How public figures react to media stories about health and well-being

By Christina Okello

French presidential candidate François Fillon sparked an outcry this week when he accused the media of politically assassinating him. The conservative candidate once the presidential favourite is now in bad shape. He's not the only one. Across the globe, several African leaders have all gone off sick. Reporting on bad health though can prove a test for the media.

Rumours that something is wrong with François Fillon's campaign, first emerged when the satirical paper Canard Enchainé published damning allegations that he'd used tax payer's money to pay his family for jobs they didn't do.

Try as he may to soldier on, Fillon's campaign has taken a nosedive, leading him to lash out at the media, responsible in his eyes for 'destroying' him.

"The first refuge of the beleaguered politician is to blame the messenger, i.e. shoot the messenger rather than dealing with the message," reckons political analyst Jim Shields.

"But with an important public interest at stake, the media are going to keep digging of course they are, that's their job."

Digging up dirt is tricky for any media professional, but when it comes to finding out the truth about a political leader's health --physical or otherwise-- it's a whole other ball game.

Take the case of Algerian leader Abdelazziz Bouteflika.

Last month, the president cancelled a high profile visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel due to ill health, fuelling further speculation about his condition.

The Algerian press however can't discuss it says Amar, an Algerian doctor here in Paris. "The biggest sponsorship deals come from the government, and if a newspaper wants to survive it's obliged to write what the government wants, and avoid certain topics."

Health and sickness is one of them. For journalists bold enough to scour politicians medical records, or in the case of Fillon their tax returns, they risk getting bogged down in red tape, or being attacked on their credibility.

How good in shape is your leader? It's a question perhaps some journalists would prefer not to know.

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