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LEBANON: Did Tunisia's tyrant buy off Hezbollah TV?

May 24, 2011 | 11:07 am

The Tunisian newspaper Sabah (link in Arabic) reported Monday that Hezbollah's Al-Manar television was allegedly paid $100,000 to polish up the image of deposed Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali. 

In addition to bribing Al-Manar, the former president also paid other international news agencies to portray him as a "promoter of human rights" and a leader of a country that respected the rule of law, Sabah reported, cited documents it had obtained from a secretive Tunisian propaganda arm.

According to the Tunisian newspaper, Ben Ali was purportedly successful in suppressing national media by portraying them as mouthpieces of local mafias.

The autocratic regime was less creative with it came to foreign news agencies, and opted to instead to pay them to put Ben Ali in a positive light, the paper said.

To this end, the regime established ACTE, the Tunisian Agency for External Communications, to collect money from state organizations, including state-owned radio and television, and dole it out to foreign journalists, the paper said. 

According to Sabah, records kept by ACTE dealt exclusively with "a project to develop a media relationship between ACTE and Lebanese news stations." The files allegedly date back to January 2010. 

The director of the Beirut office for ACTE proposed that Tunisia increase the annual amount it had been paying Nahar, a Lebanese anti-Syrian/pro-American newspaper, from $50,000 to $75,000 in order to brighten Ben Ali's international image.

In addition it was also suggested that the pan-Arab, left-leaning Lebanese newspaper Safir be bought off with another $50,000, Sabah reported.

Lebanese television stations were reportedly even more voracious. One, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri's NBN, "demanded that payments double in order to increase promotional support," Sabah said. 

The newspaper said Al-Manar, which used to receive $150,000 a year to support the Ben Ali regime, asked for an extra $50,000 annually if ACTE wished to raise the profile of the ruler, who now resides in Jeddah with his wife.  

-- Los Angeles Times

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