Tunisia: The President must guarantee free press and access to information

Tunisia: The President must guarantee free press and access to information - Media

Tunisian president Kais Saeid

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Presidency of the Republic of Tunisia to respect the principle of equality and non-discrimination towards media institutions and journalists, particularly regarding access to information, and to guarantee the right of Tunisians to a free and pluralistic media.

On the occasion of the Algerian President’s visit to Tunisia, the Presidency of the Republic of Tunisia organised a press conference on 15 December 2021 and invited journalists working for the National Television and Tunis Afrique Press to attend, with the stipulation that they should not address any questions to President Kais Saied — a dangerous precedent and a direct interference in the freedom of press. This arbitrary decision angered many journalists due to the absence of any objective and transparent criteria being presented for this decision.

ARTICLE 19 fears that the motive behind this decision is to punish certain private media outlets for their opposition to the decisions taken by the president on 25 July, decisions that seriously risk the freedom and plurality of media content. Exercising this indirect pressure on the media will push them to change editorial content and reporting to satisfy the public authorities in a bid to ensure they have access to information sources.

It should be noted that the Presidency of the Republic’s approach of not holding press conferences or giving interviews has continued since the presidential elections in 2019. The only exceptions to this have been rare interviews with foreign media outlets and a single interview with Tunisia’s National Television in 2020. This approach was reinforced recently, during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Tunisia, when the Presidency organised a press conference on 8 December 2021 without inviting a single journalist.

The communication policy adopted by the Presidency of the Republic clearly contradicts the right to information enshrined in article 32 of the second Chapter of the Constitution, which is still in force during the current “exceptional” period.

In addition, excluding journalists from press conferences organised by the President’s office and refusing to make statements to the media constitutes a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in addition to article 9 of the decree-law on freedom of the press, printing and publishing, which states: “it is forbidden to impose any restrictions that impede freedom of information circulation, or prevent equal opportunities between the various media outlets in obtaining information, or that would impede the citizen’s right to a free, pluralistic and transparent media.”