Lethal Perfume…False News, Rumor Repeated Since 2008

AKEED, Anwar Ziadat

The search for the "lethal perfume" Relax in the Arab countries is still continuing. The existence of the perfume has not been confirmed so far in any Arab country, particularly Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Sudan. These countries were mentioned in a report that was widely circulated in media outlets, including local news websites.

Dr. Haidar al-Zibn, director general of the Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization, told the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) that "there are no poisonous perfumes in Jordan." He pointed out that "the Standards and Metrology Organization takes samples from all perfumes that enter the Kingdom and examines them and their ingredients, especially the active ingredient."

He added that "in the event of finding any violating perfumes, they are re-exported." He noted that "there are no poisonous perfumes in the Kingdom. All perfumes that enter the local market have customs declarations that include complete details."

Local websites published news about the "poisonous perfume" under different headlines without checking their accuracy and credibility, especially in headlines such as "Warning to Jordanians…Poisonous Israeli Perfume Sweeps Across Arab Countries, Causes Death Within Three Days"; "Lethal Perfume Spreads in Seven Arab Countries"; "Lethal Perfume Spreads in Arab Countries"; "In Document and Names…Poisonous Perfume Promoted in Six Arab Countries, Causes Death Within Three Days"; and "Poisonous Perfume Causes Death Within Three Days."

The websites that published these headlines, which spread fear and panic among members of the public, did not make a great effort to confirm their credibility. There is nothing that confirms this news, which originally relied on an unconfirmed article circulated by Arabic websites on a large scale. Also, some websites tried to capitalize on the emotional factor of hostility between the Arabs and Israel to gain more followers and readers by using headlines, such as: "Poisonous Israeli Perfume Sweeps Across Arab Countries, Causes Death Within Three Days"; "Is Mossad Behind Poisonous Perfume in Arab Countries?"

Some local news websites, however, followed the news with a positive practice and published a denial in the case. The news stated that "information received from several sources at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Standards and Metrology Organization confirmed that Jordan was free from a lethal perfume that had spread in some countries of the region. The information indicated that there had been no order to bring a perfume called Relax into the Jordanian market."

By tracking the origin of the story, we find that on 28 August 2017, the Algerian newspaper El Khabar published a report headlined "Ministry of National Defense Warns of Poisonous Perfume." However, the newspaper published a report on the next day headlined "Ministry of Trade Denies Relax Perfume Exists in Market."

Most newspapers and news websites carried the first report, which is untrue, and did not publish the denial by the Ministry of Trade. This shows that numerous websites look for sensational news that appeals to readers, while the search for the truth is less important.

This news was also reported by Arab and regional websites. The headlines include the following: "What Is the Truth of Lethal Poisonous Perfume in Algeria?" "What Is the Truth of Spread of "Lethal Perfume" in Egyptian Markets?" "Egypt Denies Existence of Lethal Perfume in Markets"; "Lethal Perfume: Latest Israeli Weapon Against Arabs"; and "Ministry of Health: Iraq Free From Any Lethal Perfume."

A monitoring by AKEED showed that the news had spread in previous years. In June 2011, the Public Directorate of Health Affairs in the Eastern Region in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia denied, through Sami Suleiman, public relations manager, the news carried by websites about the existence of a poisonous perfume that killed a number of persons and caused the hospitalization of 35 persons in the region.

Furthermore, a report headlined "Lethal Perfume Targets Muslims…Old Rumor Comes Back to Life in Algeria," published on 30 August, revealed that such rumors had previously spread on some Arabic websites. It said that the lethal perfume spread in several Arab countries. The websites attributed the news to the show "Good Morning Arabs" on MBC. However, there is no link to an episode of this show about the perfume.

A similar report appeared in 2008. The name of the perfume was "Lovely." The UAE police and the Qatari Ministry of Health denied the news, saying that these are just rumors. The same denial was issued by the Saudi Ministry of Health. Yet, the rumor has continued to spread in later years on several websites and electronic forums. Throughout these years, no news report has been published quoting a reliable source about the discovery of a single bottle of perfume, proven to be lethal, which is produced by a foreign company and distributed in the Arab region.

A report headlined "Perfume Contains Lethal Poison…Story That Turned Into Reality" indicated that the perfume rumor had created a state of panic in Gulf markets in February 2013 in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Iraq. Also, in September 2016, social media in Morocco circulated a report about the spread of a "lethal perfume" in numerous Arab markets.

AKEED maintains that a media person must verify information. This is a sine qua non for publishing, particularly news that causes panic and fear. News websites sometimes publish inaccurate news, in an unprofessional and unethical practice, to appeal to followers at the expense of the truth.

The repeat of such rumors, which have been refuted previously, raises questions about why they are revived every now and then and the role of the media in exposing these rumors and protecting the right of people to know. This also raises a question about the possibility of using the media as a biased instrument in trade competition.