Al Jazeera broadcasts fake interview of Maghreb Union secretary general, provokes deep anger in Tunis

Date: 15/01/2009
Source: Middle East Online - London,UK
Ben Yahia says Arab Maghreb Union intends to sue, impersonator, could 'hold the channel legally' accountable.

TUNIS - Al Jazeera's contrite apology did not change much to the sense of chock that Tunisians felt at the Doha-based channel's broadcast, Wednesday, of a fake interview with former Tunisian foreign minister and current secretary general of the Arab Maghreb Union, Mr Habib Ben Yahia.

The bad impersonation of Mr Ben Yahia was obvious to all viewers who were watching Al Jazeera. The public's anger fed on the notion that the hoax should have been obvious to the news presenter, who happened to be Tunisian.

Mr Ben Yahia said the Arab Maghreb Union intends to sue the impersonator and could "hold the channel legally" accountable. He added, in a statement released in Rabat, where the AMU is headquartered: "The Arab Maghreb Union general secretariat was deeply astonished at the decision of Al Jazeera to broadcast an interview with an individual impersonating the secretary general of the Arab Maghreb Union. The AMU denounces these fake statements and finds it strange that the channel did not care to properly check the identity of the interviewee."

Mr Ben Yahia's statement also denounced the attitude of the channel, which did not reveal to its viewers the nature of the hoax nor offer right away the necessary apologies.

An unidentified source at Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, acknowledged late Wednesday to the Reuters news agency that the channel did make "a mistake". The anonymous source claimed, also, that the channel interrupted the interview after it discovered the person being interviewed was not Mr Ben Yahia.

But the interruption of the interview was not obvious to viewers as the presenter seemed to end his interview normally and said in his closing sentence that he was indeed interviewing "Mr Ben Yahia from Tunis". The first formal admission by Al Jazeera of its mistake came after midnight Doha-time in the form a brief remark during its daily Maghreb news digest.

The fake interview has been posted since then at the popular website Youtube. (

Tunisian newspaper columnists, Thursday, chided Al Jazeera not only for its "misrepresentation of Tunisian views", through the broadcast of the fake interview, but also for its "lopsided coverage" of Tunisian issues in general.