Following widespread industrial action by Tunisian journalists on Wednesday, the government has promised to implement two decrees which guarantee press freedom and the regulation of audiovisual media.
The decrees were passed last year, but had not yet been enacted, leading to growing tension between members of the media and the government.
Agence Tunisia Afrique Presse (TAP) cited an announcement from the Prime Minister’s office, saying: "The coalition government has decided to implement decrees 115 and 116 regulating the information sector.”
The implementation of the decrees, which had been one of the striking journalists’ major demands, had been blocked by the coalition government’s ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, which has been accused of trying to control the media in the wake of last year’s revolution.
An authority initially charged with introducing these reforms, was shut down in July, blaming government censorship for its failure and prompting concerns among journalists who saw the move as another indication of the ruling party's intentions.
Decree 115 clarifies journalists’ rights and prevents “restrictions on the freedom to disseminate information,” while decree 116 introduces an independent authority responsible for issuing radio and television licenses and guaranteeing “the freedom of audiovisual communication.”
The announcement came a day after the strike, which saw state television and radio channels severely reduce their broadcasts and join representatives from other media outlets as part of civil action organised by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT).
Strong support for journalists
According to the union, more than 90% of Tunisia’s journalists took part in the strike, chanting “Dar Assabah, the red line,” “Freedom of press, foundation of democracy,” “The radio is public, not governmental,” “Rehabilitation of the fourth estate,” and other slogans. Others chose to cover their mouths with stickers that read “censored.”
Doha Centre for Media Freedom supported the striking journalists, urging the government to ensure that press freedom and independence be guaranteed and that a strong separation between administrative and editorial appointments is implemented.
Wednesday's strike received international support and was attended by representatives of the International Federation of Journalists and the Federation of Arab Journalists.
A senior member of the SNJT, Zied El Heni welcomed the government’s announcement, but asked why it had taken so long to arrive at what many see as a clear and simple decision.
“We regret that so much time has been lost. We could have avoided many problems and disputes for the sector and for the country,” he said.
The government has argued that it is conducting a cleanup operation in the media industry, trying to remove figures of authority and influence who were members of the previous regime. They have also complained about what they perceive to be a relentless campaign of criticsm serving the interests of their political opponents.
However, following the strike, a government statement said that it is open to dialogue and is willing "to respond positively to all the issues involving the information sector, and those which concern the social situation in certain media establishments."
Trouble between journalists and the government has been brewing for months now, as media outlets have consistently complained about the ruling party’s attempts to exert editorial control. Appointments to high profile positions at media outlets have been vehemently opposed by journalists, who want to maintain independence.
The most prominent case has been the appointment of the director of the state-owned Dar Assabah press group, where six journalists have been on hunger strike since October 12.
One of the journalists on hunger strike, Lamia Cherif, was rushed to hospital on Wednesday, with reports suggesting that she remained conscious, but appeared to be very weak and had to be put on a drip.
Source: DCMF, TAP