Words and Images Can Be Very Powerful!!!

Jerry Sorkin, speaking at The Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. February 2013


The images and words the media chooses to use to describe a situation can create fear, distort and take a situation completely out of context. In today’s world of blogs, Facebook, experienced journalism and the many services that encourage “I-Reports”, there is no way to control how images posted from around the world at the push of a button convey reality amidst this myriad of stimuli.

As one who lives much of the year in Tunisia, where the so-called “Arab Spring” Revolution began, and also travels widely in the Middle East and North Africa, I am constantly amazed at the way Tunisia is described in the U.S. media. It is not featured frequently, but when it is, there is seldom the effort to explain the differences of what is taking place in Tunisia’s “Revolution” compared to the “revolutions” in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Such distinctions are particularly lacking when it comes to daily life in Tunisia and how it is described.

When a demonstration with thousands of attendees takes place against the government on the main street in Tunis, two blocks away, Tunisians can be sitting in cafes, shopping in Zara or simply continuing their daily activities. Think about it?  If you are going to hold a demonstration to protest against some government policy (which Tunisia’s newfound freedoms since January 2011 have allowed!), would you hold your demonstration on some quiet suburban street, or on the main street of the Prime Minister or Ministry of Interior where protests will be heard and media will gather?

“Safety” and “security” are issues that determine whether foreign investment will come to a country. Tourism will decline if perceptions are that “safety” and “security” or lacking! Foreign investment likes to see tourism, as it suggests a level of security that foreign investment welcomes. So, as many countries in the Middle East and North Africa continue to suffer from dramatic declines in tourism and Americans continue to read September and October 2012 “Warnings” from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, it is important that information still be communicated to people to give them a more realistic sense of what is “safe” and what is “secure”.

We decided to let you see images that have been used in recent media to describe “revolution”. You decide if “revolution” and the fear factor that words and images can bring, are commensurate with all the photos we are posting, herein. Perhaps even more important, is the report “from an American family on the front lines” of Tunisia a barometer of reality!

One has to decide if using words such as “revolution” vary from place to place and if images and other powerful words can create their own distortion?

An American Family in Tunisia…

Jerry Sorkin’s involvement with Tunisia dates back three decades. He lives much of the year in Tunis, Tunisia. Since July 2010, he has served as President of the American Tunisian Association (www.americantunisianassociation.com) . The views expressed are his own.

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