What is behind the absence of the media in the referendum campaign?

The campaign for the referendum has been underway since July 3, and strangely enough, it is barely visible in the Tunisian media.

The time when all the audiovisual media broadcast political programs from morning to night seems to be over. The polemics and virulent exchanges between the political actors also disappeared.

With the exception of social networks, there is almost no debate. However, the issue is of great importance to the country as we are talking about the constitution of a new republic.

Massive media deprogrammed political broadcasts. Especially the ones that are controversial. The best-known journalists and columnists have gone on leave, during which the period should theoretically be decisive for them. TV and radio stars publish holiday pictures taken abroad, as if to show their total disinterest in the referendum.

How to explain this? Is it at this point that holidays have become a sacred thing for Tunisians?

A star private TV and radio columnist tells Business News about going on leave at this time.

It’s been six months since I got paid on TV. And my case is not unique, he says, it is the same for journalists and technicians. At some point you have to say stop.

For the radio, it was the director who decided to stop political broadcasts after the warning from Haica (Audiovisual Gendarme) for the strict respect of speaking time and fairness between the promoters of “yes” and “no”. To avoid mistakes and fines, the best way is to do nothing, said the director “.

This fear of punishment is not exclusive to this radio, it concerns all the Tunisian media. In this period of creeping dictatorship, where military justice reacts every quarter to put journalists in jail (there have already been two cases), it is better to be careful.

The most listened to radio station in the country, Mosaïque FM used the summer holidays as an excuse to send its star journalist, Elyes Gharbi and its two columnists, Zyed Krichen and Haythem El Mekki, on leave. It is Amina Ben Doua, more consensual and less controversial, who holds the microphone for the most listened to political program Midi Show.

Ditto for IFM, where we note the absence (still on leave) of its star journalist Mourad Zeghidi. His “baggage” is sorely missed by listeners in this election period.

Star journalist from Radio Diwan, Mohamed Yousfi left Diwan FM on June 3 after six years of good and loyal service. He was the only one on this radio who asked disturbing questions and often got to the bottom of the matter.

Have these departures affected the editorial lines of the radio stations, and can we say that the campaign has been poorly followed in the media?

The Electoral Act is clear, it imposes on the audiovisual media a perfect balance between “yes” and “no” in the referendum. It does not approach the subject of campaign coverage from a qualitative point of view, but from a quantitative one. As if the journalistic product has become a commodity that can be quantified. This is not exclusive to Tunisia, France also sets up this deviant regulation, where they impose on the media what to spread.

Since it has become quantitative, it has become measurable independent of the quality of the broadcasts.

According to Haica’s midterm figures, there is a real imbalance between the “yes” and “no” camps.

Thus, Shems FM (radio controlled by the state) has deviated from its neutral editorial line and claimed that it is the radio that stands at an equal distance from all political actors. According to Haica, Shems devoted 69% of his antenna to “no”. The same trend at Radio Gafsa (also controlled by the state) with 57% for “no”.

Radio Kef and Radio Monastir (controlled by the state) on the other hand “militia” for “yes” with 68% of the broadcast time.

On the side of the private radio stations, “no” has won the majority so far. We find Mosaïque (61%), Express FM (66%), Jawhara (57%) and Radio Med (76%).

Only three radio stations strictly respect the law by balancing their antenna between “yes” and “no”, namely Radio Nationale, Diwan and IFM.

Asked by Business News on the subject, Hichem Snoussi, a member of Haica, states that the publication of these mid-term figures aims to remind the various actors of the need to rebalance their speaking time before the end of the campaign. ” Most importantly, and to comply with the law, you must reach 50-50 over the entire election period he tells us.

On the television side, the imbalance and disagreement is much more evident. The country’s most watched television stations have simply canceled their political broadcasts. This is the case with 9, El Hiwar Ettounsi and Nessma.

First, no explanation was given for the abolition of the daily political program. The summer network cannot alone justify this deprogramming, since the referendum is an unusual, even historic event, to use the words of the President of the Republic.

El Hiwar Ettounsi has chosen to leave politics forever to focus on generalist and variety shows. The three passages in prison of Sami El Fehri, the founder of the chain, are for nothing. Mr. El Fehri ended up abdicating to avoid trouble.

Nessma, which was the most active during the 2019 elections, also gave up political broadcasts. Its reference shareholders, the Karoui brothers, were pushed out and it was their partner Tarak Ben Ammar who completely took over the chain. Living in France, businessman and administrator of several large European groups, some of which are listed on the stock exchange, Mr. Ben Ammar does not want to alienate Tunisian power. Better to be careful and discreet so as not to attract the wrath of a dictator who shoots everything that moves.

To make a long story short, out of the twelve channels that make up the Tunisian TV media landscape, only three are talking about the campaign, namely Wataniya 1 (state-controlled media), Hannibal TV (private) and Zitouna (Islamist) . media unlicensed hacker).

We are not talking about quality, in the absence of political programs with large audiences, we can only talk about quantity. According to the measurements conducted by Haica, Wataniya 1 leans “yes” with 55% of the airtime, in contrast to Hannibal, which also leans “no” with 55%.

Would this lead scavenging imposed on the entire Tunisian media landscape threaten freedom of expression in the country?

In fact, we can already see it. The disconnect between mainstream media and radio and television stars is obvious.

In less than a year, Kaïs Saïed has succeeded in bringing public and private media into line. The very principle of democracy requires that they all be mobilized during this election period. Their conspicuous absence demonstrates, if necessary, that their freedom has been put away in the closet while they waited for better days.

By direct and indirect intimidation, by imprisoning Islamist journalists or as a security measure, the Tunisian audiovisual media have preferred to abandon their journalistic mission.

At the moment there are few voices left in the written press and there is no guarantee that these papers will survive for long.

Raouf Ben Hedi

Leave a Comment