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Tunisia: Head of national TV fired over greetings to Ben Ali, amid public rage

A cameraman backstage at Nightly News at Nessma TV on April 9, 2011 in Tunis, Tunisia. [Kim Badawi/Getty Images]
A cameraman backstage at Nightly News at Nessma TV in Tunis, Tunisia, 10 May 2019 [Kim Badawi/Getty Images]

A recorded sermon dating back to the pre-revolution period, which staged a sheikh's prayer and greetings to the former Tunisian president and his family, was aired on national television on 6 May 2019, i.e. the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, sparking a wave of anger among Tunisian viewers. Following the incident, Mohammed Lazhar Fares, head of El Wataniya 1 and temporary director of El Wataniya 2, was relieved of duty.

An administrative investigation was opened in order to determine the responsibilities of the various staff members involved in the incident, which is caused by human negligence and unprofessional demeanour, in addition to taking the administrative and disciplinary measures required to suspend those who are responsible for the mistake, as well as to initiate the necessary legal action against them.

Greetings to

While presenting the sermon, the sheikh greeted Ben Ali following the occasion of welcoming the holy month of Ramadhan, saying: "During this holy month, we ask Allah to bless President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the first lady Mrs Leila Ben Ali."

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He added: "We hope that our dear Tunisia enjoys security, safety and peace under the leadership of its beloved son, the fair and sincere President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who led our country to prosperity".

Public anger

The televised sermon sparked a wave of sarcastic comments on Facebook. Activists said: "Long live the sports section on Channel 21 and we are thankful to our colleges in the bus," while other activists wondered about the fate of billions of Tunisian dinars paid in the form of taxes to finance the national TV that failed even to produce new religious sermons to be broadcasted.

Social media activists expressed their rage about the incident, rejecting the national TV's justifications that the program was aired by mistake, according to its apology statement.

Media figure Salim Derbali expressed his surprise via Facebook, explaining that he did not believe at first glance what happened.

Ghufran Al-Hussaini, researcher and media specialist in religious affairs, commented that "he met with national television officials on several occasions to plan for the production of new religious programs, but in the end, they did nothing." He added: "The first episode of a religious program in Ramadan on El Wataniya 2 since 2007 includes greetings to Ben Ali and his wife. So, tomorrow they will air an episode about our mother, France."

Latifa Masoudi criticised via Facebook the national television's managers and accused them of deliberately re-broadcasting this episode, which can be explained as a nostalgic gesture for tyranny and wasting public funds without doing any productive work.

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An official apology from national television

In the wake of the scandal, the Tunisian national television issued a communiqué to apologise to the viewers stating: "We apologise for the inadvertent human error we made while pulling the tape out of the tape safe." According to the statement, the general management department has taken the administrative procedures to hold those who hurt, by being negligent, the Tunisian people's feelings, responsible for their wrongdoing; stressing that such type of actions is unacceptable in the national TV establishment.

The Tunisian national TV expressed its sincere regret for the incident, pledging to viewers "never to repeat such mistake in the future."

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