Tunisian court pulls plug on controversial hidden camera TV show

Some guests said they were coerced during the ordeal and that footage was deceptively edited.
Wednesday 30/05/2018
Agents provocateurs? Walid Zribi (C), the producer of the hidden-camera television programme “Shalom” poses with cast members. (Walid Zribi)
Agents provocateurs? Walid Zribi (C), the producer of the hidden-camera television programme “Shalom” poses with cast members. (Walid Zribi)

TUNIS - A hidden-camera television programme in which prominent Tunisian figures were lured into making deals with purported Israeli agents was ordered off the air by a Tunisian court.

“Shalom,” broadcast by Tounesna TV, was suspended May 28 after a complaint was filed by the leftist political party Popular Front, which said the programme was a form of “normalisation with the state of Israel.”

In the programme, well-known Tunisian politicians and other public figures were secretly filmed agreeing to work with Israel in exchange for money. Others were adamant about refusing any enticement to strike such deals.

In one episode, a left-wing politician who is a vocal critic of Israel said he has “no problem” with the Jewish state. In another, a political activist said he would be happy to help influence public opinion in favour of Israel.

Some guests said they were coerced during the ordeal and that footage was deceptively edited.

“I was put under a lot of pressure. I was terrified,” leftist politician Raouf Ayadi told Tunisian media. “Scenes in which an armed bodyguard stopped me from leaving were left out.”

“Shalom” sparked a row in Tunisia, a predominantly Muslim country that cut ties with Israel in 2000. Some viewers praised it for “exposing hypocrisy and corruption” but others criticised it for using manipulative tactics, reinforcing negative stereotypes of Jews and trivialising a serious issue.

“How can a producer make normalisation a subject of entertainment when it is a crime?” asked Rafik Ghanmi of the Popular Front during a radio broadcast with Mosaique FM. “This is not the way to approach the issue.”

Tunisia’s journalists’ syndicate said the programme represented “entrapment” and that its producers engaged in a “flagrant violation” of journalistic ethics.

“The force and intimidation in dealing with guests and forcing them to continue to participate in the meeting and extract statements is not related to television and media in any way,” the National Union of Tunisian Journalists said in a statement.

“We are counting on the awareness of Tunisians to boycott such programmes and renew our position on the principle of the necessity of enacting a law to criminalise normalisation in its various forms with the Zionist entity.”

Walid Zribi, the programme’s producer, denied that guests had been intimidated and said the show was an important portrayal of corruption and hypocrisy at the highest levels. He said he received numerous death threats since the series was broadcast.

He is not the only one to be threatened with violence because of the show’s content.

Political activist Mondher Gafrache, who was shown on “Shalom” readily agreeing to deal with Israel, was hospitalised May 27 after being assaulted in his hometown of Gabes.

Days earlier, conservative cleric Adel Almi, who also appeared on the programme, reportedly broke into the headquarters of a Tunisian radio station that published details of the show and demanded to be put on the air.

Almi, who was listed by Shems FM as among those who agreed to deal with Israel on “Shalom,” was arrested after allegedly attacking employees of the news organisation and threatening to kill himself. He has since been suspended as chairman of the Tounes Zitouna political party.

Zribi has appealed the court’s decision to suspend the programme and said he hoped to continue broadcasting.

“We have presented our arguments and… we will defend our product. If (the court) upholds this verdict on appeal, we will respect that decision,” Zribi told Mosaique FM.

20