Tunisia: A sustainable regulatory authority will support a free media

Tunisia: A sustainable regulatory authority will support a free media - Media

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about the future of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), which is vital for promoting media pluralism and independence and freedom of expression, and which oversees broadcasting governance in Tunisia. 

In particular, we are alarmed by the authorities’ decision to refer its president, Mr. Nouri Lajmi, to retirement without appointing a new president to replace him as head of the public body. 

ARTICLE 19 calls for the government to urgently appoint a new president to succeed Nouri Lajmi, in consultation with the members of the HAICA.

In a communiqué published on its website on 7 February 2023, the HAICA reported that Nouri Lajmi had received a signed letter from the acting Secretary General of the government on 6 February, stating that he would be begin his retirement as of 1 January 2023, following the end of the regularisation measure allowing him to work in the public sector. 

Background and recent events 

The Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) is a public body endowed with regulatory and advisory powers. It works to promote the culture of regulation and pluralism, and to establish a new mode of audiovisual governance.

Created by Decree-Law No. 2011-116 of 2 November 2011, relating to the freedom of audiovisual communication, the establishment of the HAICA was officially announced on 3 May 2013, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. 

Only three months before the 10th anniversary of its inception, today the HAICA faces many obstacles that hinder its functioning and threaten its sustainability. This has been exacerbated by the current void at the institution’s highest levels due to Nouri Lajmi’s presidency coming to an end. 

Recent developments have rendered the fate of the HAICA, and the robust media   environment it seeks to support, ambiguous and uncertain. We also regret the absence of transparency in the management of this important independent public institution in Tunisia’s media sector, as this has repercussions on the freedom, pluralism and independence of audiovisual communication.  ARTICLE 19 fears that these latest decisions will open the door to government interference in the functions of the HAICA, contrary to the provisions of Decree 116 of 2011 according to which it was created, thus ending independent media regulation in Tunisia. 

On 31 January 2023, authorities issued decree no 2023-32 of 24 January 2023 in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Tunisia, introducing a regularisation measure that granted HAICA President Nouri Lajmi an exception to work in the public sector from 1 October 2020 until 31 December 2022 after he had reached the legal age of retirement. The issuance of this decree raised many questions and fuelled considerable ambiguity about whether Nouri Lajmi would continue as the head of the HAICA after 31 December 2022, the period covered by the regularisation. 

Questions were also raised about the future of the HAICA as a whole, especially given the central role the president played in managing and ensuring its continuity, as well as about the powers vested in him under article 24 of Decree 116 of 20111, which stipulates that the president is ‘the first disbursement officer of revenues and expenditures included in the budget of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication’.

ARTICLE 19 calls for the urgent appointment of a new president in accordance with the provisions of article 7 of Decree No. 2011-116 dated 2 November 2011 regarding freedom of audiovisual communication, and in line with the establishment of the HAICA. 

ARTICLE 19 also calls for provisions guaranteeing the HAICA’s entitlement to operate independently to be upheld, given the importance of its role in promoting freedom of expression and the media, stipulated in Articles 37 and 38 of Tunisia’s 2022 Constitution.