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Who Pays the Price? Advertisements in the Egyptian Press Beautifying the Image of the Tunisian Dictatorship

Preface

"We are asking journalists not to eat our flesh." This appeal came from the Tunisian journalist and celebrated activist Naziha Rejiba (Um Ziad) in her speech delivered at the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate (EJS) on May 3rd, 2006 during the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.

As a journalist herself, Um Ziad knows the importance of the news for journalists and press organizations, yet the concept of news doesn’t mean that media outlets publish materials to embellish the image of the Tunisian dictatorship and ignore the daily disasters caused by this regime.

Publishing news advertisements biased to one point of view transforms such a newspaper that is in effect "eating the flesh" of the Tunisian citizen and his or her right to an independent impartial media.

But many newspapers and journalists didn't answer Um Ziad's call and didn't care about it and this goes for Egyptian and Arab newspapers and journalists alike.

These paid advertisements have kept on appearing in newspapers carrying fantastic headlines about the heaven of democracy in Tunisia using well-chosen mostly color photos of President Ben Ali, applauding the achievements he has made in all fields.

But none of these advertisements have been labelled as an advertisement. Most of these advertisements were published in Arab affair pages and some of them were even published on the front page. Some newspapers published these ads as "special reports" or "documentary reports" but none of these newspapers pointed out clearly that these were paid advertisements.

"Human rights has great significance in Ben Ali's thought." This is an example of a news story published in the Egyptian Al-Gomhoria among other subjects on the Arab affair page in mid-April 2007. When the regular person reads this story (advertisement) he or she will not stop for long to think about it but he or she will deal with it instead as a regular story like other stories, analysis, reports or news. And this is exactly the intention behind designing these advertisements to look like other stories. But the truth is that they are not real news stories, they are advertisements published differently and in an intentional way to mislead, and this is where the deception lies.

Um Ziad's outcry at the EJS alerted us to the fact that it is a practice and a continuing widespread violation. We didn't expect it to be of such a scale, we didn't expect that some journalists call for freedom of press in their own countries while they embellish the image of another which kills freedom of the press in another country. These advertisements/reports jeopardize all the concepts of independent media. These advertisements jeopardize the citizen's right to knowledge based on the distinction between advertisement and media.

The false news has given a chance to those who violate freedom of expression in Tunisia to escape punishment or even reproach. These newspapers jeopardize the articles of the journalistic code of ethics. These advertisements are funded from the flesh of the Tunisian citizen.