The use of national media as an instrument of propaganda has been fairly well documented in Tunisia. Tunisian citizen media have been well adept at tracking the numerous instances of fabrication of information and censorship of publications critical of the government. The latest evidence of media manipulation was identified by Tunisian bloggers on August 20 when newspaper Le Temps [fr] and its Arabic version Assabah published reports on fundation Zeitouna sending of humanitarian food supply to the victims of the floods in Pakistan. To illustrate the report and the involvement of businessman and the president son-in-law Sakhr El Matri in the initiative, Le Temps published  a photo showing Sakhr El Matri inspecting the materials before they were loaded into the aircraft:

Photo in Le Temps showing modified images via Nawaat.org

The community blog Nawaat describes features on the images that suggest that they have been doctored[fr]:

Il ne faut pas être un expert pour déceler au premier coup d’œil que la photo a été “retouchée” et que le gendre du président a “atterri” dans cette image par le biais d’un grossier copier-coller. En plus de l’exposition et du sens des ombres qui ne sont pas raccord avec l’exposition générale de la photo, on peut parfaitement déceler la manche de Sakhr El Matri qui cache une partie du coude de l’homme avec la chemise bleue alors que ce dernier est au premier plan !

It does take an expert to realize that at first glance, the photo was retouched and that the son in law of the president was “parachuted” in the image via a rather unrefined copy-paste job. In addition to the light exposure being discordant within the photo and the direction of the shadows going the wrong way, we can tell that Sakhr El Matri’s sleeve hides part of the elbow of the man with the blue shirt even though that man is in the forefront!

Nawaat finds a bit of humour noting that at least, the Arabic version of the newspaper did a slightly better job at doctoring the photos:

Assabah, la version arabe du quotidien, a publié la même photo mais avec un bidouillage légèrement amélioré mais qui reste tout de même parfaitement visible. Quand on agrandi à l’endroit de l’anomalie de la première photo on voit que le bras du mécène passe derrière le coude de l’homme en chemise bleue, comme le voudraient les lois de l’optique

Assabah, the arabic version of the newspaper, also published the same photo with a slightly better photoshopping effort albeit still quite detectable. When one zooms in on the contentious area, one can see that the right arm is now seen behind the elbow of the man with the blue shirt as the laws of optic would dictate

Same image in Assabah with a different modification via Nawaat.org

The fact that the doctored images were outed online clearly reached the editors of the newspapers because the photos were promptly replaced soon after in the online version. A video posted on facebook did show Sakhr El Matri inspecting a humanitarian airplane but it is unclear whether the video was shot before or after the photos were published. It is all the more astonishing that doctored photos would be utilized in two national newspapers so liberally if it seems that original images were available using the video footage. One must also note that Sakhr El Matri  is fully involved in the management of both newspapers. Tunisian bloggers have also wondered in what capacity Sakhr El Matri, a civilian,  was allowed to access the runway of  what looks like a military base airport. Tunisian twitter user Lilopatra also wonders what kind of plane the Zeitouna foundation used to transport the humanitarian food supply to Pakistan.  She adds:

Si on se met dans la position du protecteur à chaque fois,cela retardera la maturité & la capacité de prise de décision du citoyen.#Tunisie

If we always try to consider issues from the perspectives of the top person, it will considerably slow down the maturity process and decision making ability of citizens #Tunisia

Unfortunately, these doctored photos are fairly symptomatic of other manufactured information in Tunisia. For instance in 2009, the news agency Tunis Afrique Press (TAP) reported that Tunisia was ranked 32 out of 165 countries on the political stability index generated by The Economist Intelligence Unit . The only problem is that the index actually shows that Tunisia was ranked 134th, a hundred slots below the one stated in the introduction of the article.

Snapshot of The EIU Political Stability Index via Nawaat.org

In 2007, the same agency was guilty of overstating a report [fr] that claimed that the International Herald Tribune wrote a full page report on the educational system of Tunisia, including two articles about the government striving provide the best educational system for its citizens and the importance of education for the development of the nation. They omitted an important part though, they forgot to mention that there was never such articles in the IHT news section but rather a full commercial page in the paid advertisement section [fr].
The original TAP articles about the political stability index and the IHT report are not accessible to the public online anymore.
Tunisia is often praised for its robust export-driven liberal economy but slammed for its authoritarian political system. The Economist’s 2008 democracy index classified Tunisia as an authoritarian regime with a ranking of 141 out of 167 studied countries.

By Lova Rakotomalala · Posted 24 August 2010
Global Voices Online

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