Tunisia: Draft Decree on the establishment of a Press Council

ARTICLE 19 examined the Draft Decree on fixing a framework for establishing and funding a Press Council for Tunisia (Draft Decree) for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

Since 2012, ARTICLE 19 has been working extensively on issues related to freedom of expression and media freedom in Tunisia, and analysed a number of laws and regulations in this area. This is ARTICLE 19’s latest substantive commentary on proposed legislation in the state.

In ARTICLE 19’s opinion, the Draft Decree presents a sound basis for a model of self-regulation underpinned by law (in this case a Presidential Decree) or a model co-regulation of the press. The Draft Decree exhibits a number of positive features:

  • It indicates that it is the representatives of the press, namely the National Union of Tunisian Journalists and Tunisian League of Newspaper Managers, who are responsible for creating the Press Council as a self-regulatory body for the print and Internet-based press;
  • The Press Council as envisaged by the Draft Decree is to encompass civil society organisations; and the Press Council is intended to advocate for or promote “the freedom of the press” in various ways, including through the development of an ethical code for the press.

At the same time, the Draft Decree shows a number of flaws in terms of the style of its drafting and substantive content. Most notably

  • The Preamble to the Draft Decree fails to situate the instrument in the context of Tunisia’s international human rights obligations and relevant constitutional provisions, which should frame and inform the interpretation of the Draft Decree;
  • The value of self-regulation is not adequately reflected in the current draft;
  • The current terms of the Draft Decree suggest that representatives of the press community shall not be represented on the Press Council;
  • The list of activities for the Press Council suggests that some of these functions are mandatory or compulsory;
  • The “right to information” is identified as a right of citizens rather than as a human right, and the “public’s right to information” does not accurately reflect international standards. In response to these and other shortfalls.

ARTICLE 19 makes a number of recommendations for the Draft Decree’s improvement.

Summary of recommendations

  • The Preamble of the Draft Decree should make express reference to Tunisia’s international human rights treaty obligations and relevant constitutional provisions, particularly with respect to freedom of expression;
  • The Draft Decree should state that the instrument aims to establish an effective system of self-regulation of the press whilst ensuring freedom of the press and protecting freedom of expression in Tunisia;
  • The sources of law currently referenced in the Preamble should not be used to unjustifiably curtail media freedom or journalists’ rights;
  • Article 3 of the Draft Decree should indicate that the Press Council is composed of representatives of the journalistic profession as well as members of the public;
  • The Draft Decree should indicate that one of the aims of the Press Council is to promote freedom of expression, particularly press and media freedom, and freedom of information and may achieve these goals through activities. Further, the role of the Press Council in “modernising and developing the press profession … and implementing the necessary mechanisms for upgrading the sector” (Article 4) should be clarified;
  • The reference to “duties” in Article 4 should be replaced with the term “responsibilities;”
  • References to the term “mandatorily” should be removed from Article 4;
  • Article 4 should be amended to state that the Press Council may contribute “to improvement of media legislation by submitting proposals of draft legislation as well commenting on draft legislation and draft regulations related to the media sector;”
  • In Article 4, references to an “ethical code on press profession,” the “ethical Charter of the press profession” and “the press profession’s Charter of rights and duties should all be replaced by the term, the “Press Code of Ethics.” Article 4 should also indicate that the Press Council “may examine and respond to readers’ complaints” instead of “[study and follow-up] reader’s petitions;”
  • The provisions of Article 4 should be further redrafted to read that the Press Council may
    • “contribute to and give opinions on all matters relating to the allocation of public funds to the press, including the criteria for distributing and managing public advertising for paper or electronic newspapers and magazines;”
    • “give its opinion on all matters related to professional ethics and may adopt guiding principles for members of the press community in relation to controversial matters, such as opinion polls, terrorism issues and children’s issues;”
    • “promote and defend freedom of information, particularly the public’s right to easy, prompt, effective and practical access to information, as well as the public’s right to receive media output;”
    • “undertake research, publish reports, conduct training courses and other activities in order to promote high standards of journalism;” and
    • “promote media literacy in society through activities in the field of media education;”
  • Article 5 should be redrafted to state that the Press Council shall be funded through public subsidies (as agreed by the legislature), fees collected from its membership press organisations, donations and gifts.
  • The Tunisian government should ensure that on-going consultations on the Draft Decree involving the main political parties, the press community, the broader media community, NGOs, civil society organisations, academic experts and members of the public. In doing so, the government should reach out to members of the press community to ensure that support for the framework established by the Draft Decree;
  • All stakeholders should engage in constructive negotiations about the content of the Draft Decree. These discussions should focus on two issues: a) whether it includes sufficient guarantees for freedom of the press and freedom of expression generally; and b) whether it realise the fundamental objectives of self-regulation, namely the accountability of members of the press to their peers, accountability of media outlets to the public and protection for members of the profession;
  • The government should ensure that the process of consultation on the Draft Decree is fully inclusive, transparent and accessible by the public (e.g. through live-streaming).

Read our legal analysis here.