Freedoms hit hard, the public media to absent subscribers!

Last week was strongly marked by an unprecedented attack on citizens’ liberties. The warning signal was given after Nizar Bahloul’s appearance in court for an analytical article published in the columns of Business News. This violation was followed by the unjustified travel ban of the president of Afek Tounes, Fadhel Abdelkefi. A great outpouring of media solidarity was observed, except on the side of the public media, which unfortunately distinguished itself by its silence.

“Najla Bouden, a nice woman”, a factual analysis article gave the editor-in-chief of Business News lawsuits under the provisions of Article 24 of Decree 54. Business News is accused of “defamation, publication of false information, false accusations against a public official and insults against the head of government”. The complaint states that the article has “consequences that affect the security of the country and seek to influence the institutions of the state”.

Fadhel Abdelkefi is banned from traveling. The authorities at the airport tell him that this is a judicial decision and not an administrative one. His lawyer contacts the court, no trace of such a decision. However, the Ministry of the Interior maintains its reasoning for the banning decision.

These two incidents of utmost seriousness were strongly condemned by most local media, but also international in the face of a deafening silence from the public media, which contented itself with picking up the reactions condemning the government’s use of Decree 54 to condemn a release of article or travel ban for a political opponent without clear and reasoned justification.

This means that the public media has become a propaganda tool for the power that was in place, which had taken control of the management of these public institutions through the dismissal of previous managers and the appointment of new “directors”. Do we still need to remember the intensive campaign to promote electronic consultation, or the hype in the daily sets on the national channel reserved for the explanation of the referendum on July 25.

The public media is now a public service paid for at the expense of the taxpayer, giving him the right to reliable and objective information. Moreover, the improvement of public media services and their detachment from the grip of power has been one of the most important achievements since the revolution. However, since July 25, 2021, the observation is unequivocal: we are witnessing a real return to this performance, and the public media is returning to the colors of earlier times.

Since Kaïs Saïed’s assumption of power, Al Wataniya’s platforms have banned almost all players who openly question the president’s election. No one who called his actions a “coup” or questioned the relevance of his political choices was invited or invited to participate in the debates.

This situation angered some journalists. Furthermore, the Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) organized a sit-in on 11 March 2022 in front of the National Television headquarters.

Condemning the government’s grip on national television, the channel’s journalists gathered and shouted slogans such as: “the Tunisian press remains free », « press freedom a red line “or” Tunisian press freedom “.

The journalists also condemned the violence and harassment they are exposed to on a daily basis. The lack of funds, equipment and programs instructed was also mentioned by the protesters.

The channel’s manager, Awatef Daly, threatens anyone who opposes the messages she is trying to convey. The editorial line is a red line. Journalists will not bend declared a journalist at the scene.

“You must know that what national TV journalists are really asking for is public money. Their claims are really purely financial, it is not the editorial line that interests them, but their comfort zone.”. This is the answer that Awatef Dali found in the face of journalists’ complaints. For her in the company, “many are paid to do nothing while the company faces serious financial and technical problems. We bought new material, it is currently stuck at sea she assured.

Yet the situation is different on the side of the private media, which still benefits from a margin of freedom that allows them to express themselves and criticize the power in place. Moreover, this freedom and the absence of bias translate in most cases into a clear difference between the public and private media in terms of audience, and the situation affects not only the audiovisual media, but also the daily La Presse, which suffers from major financial problems , and whose circulation has decreased significantly just by observing the number of copies printed daily.

In any case, freedom of expression remains one of Tunisia’s most important achievements since 2011 and one of the fundamental foundations of any self-respecting democracy. The authorities have partially succeeded in taking control of the public media, but it remains unsuccessful for certain private media, which are not ready to give up their freedom of expression despite threats and pressure, both political and financial. The lawsuit against Business News gives an insight into the policies being considered by the ruling authorities, but the seen outpouring of solidarity indicates that the media will not give up and will stand firm in the face of the creeping hegemony of the ruling power.

Sarra HLAOUI

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