Tunisia: authorities must respect the independence and freedom of public media

Tunisia: authorities must respect the independence and freedom of public media - Media

Poster promoting the strike of public media workers in Tunisia

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian authorities to uphold  independence and freedom of public media. We urge the authorities to respect the plurality of media content and avoid any forms of interference with the editorial line of public media.

On 22 March 2022, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) announced its decision to hold a general strike on 2 April 2022, across all public media institutions, including the National Television, National Radio, Tunisia Africa News Agency, and Snipe-La Presse.

The strike demands improvements of working conditions within the public media institutions, which have continued to deteriorate since 25 July 2021. The most important demands focus on the appointment of the heads for the National Television, the National Radio, and the Tunis African News Agency, and on putting an end to the pressures on the editorial line of the National Television, whose programmes and debates should be balanced and pluralist. 

The announcement of the general strike in public media illustrates the collapse of dialogue between the authorities and the representatives of the media sector. Press freedom in Tunisia has been consistently declining due to the absence of clear policies that respect freedom of expression, as well as media freedom, independence and pluralism. Additionally, not enough is being done to improve and protect professional rights of journalists.

ARTICLE 19 considers the appointments[mfn]- Presidential decree n° 2021-79 dated 28 July 2021 appointing a person in charge of running Tunisian Television on a temporary basis. Presidential decree n° 2021-132 dated 29 September 2021 appointing a person in charge of running the Tunisian Radio Station.[/mfn] and dismissals[mfn] – Presidential decree n° 2021-79 dated 28 July 2021 appointing a person in charge of running Tunisian Television on a temporary basis. Presidential decree n° 2021-132 dated 29 September 2021 appointing a person in charge of running the Tunisian Radio Station.[/mfn] of the heads of  public media institutions which took place after the President of the Republic declared the state of emergency on 25 July 2022 to be in violation of Decree-law No. 2011-116 on freedom of audiovisual communication.  Any dismissals require obtaining a corresponding opinion of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication when such decisions are taken.

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists has warned on several occasions about the Tunisian authorities exercising power to prevent equal access of all political parties to participate in programmes and debates on public television. Since 25 July 2021, representatives of political parties have been absent from debates on National Television,  which represents a major setback for press freedom in the country.

The Independent High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication has on two occasions warned against destroying the independence of national television, whose programmes are currently characterized by a strong bias towards the Presidency of the Republic[mfn] – You can read the HAICA’s report on political pluralism in the period following the declaration of the state of exception by the President of the Republic via the following link: https://haica.tn/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Rapport-pluralisme-25-31-juillet-2021.pdf[/mfn]. In addition, religious programs on national television were used to promote an online consultation launched by the President of the Republic[mfn] – The HAICA’s decision regarding the employment of a religious programme for political propaganda can be found via the following link: https://haica.tn/ar/16630/[/mfn].

ARTICLE 19 stresses the need to ensure the independence of the media in general and the public media in particular, so that it can continue to serve as a fundamental pillar of the democratic transition, through providing citizens access to a  diverse range  of views and  political, social, and economic positions. This matters particularly now, when Tunisia is on the verge of important political reforms and electoral decisions  in the coming months.