By Houda Trabelsi
Hundreds of Tunisians gathered at the Tunis Kasbah this week to protest the government’s appointments of state media chiefs.
“We want a fourth estate, not an estate on its knees,” protestors chanted at the Monday (January 9th) rally.
Representatives of political parties, members of the National Constituent Assembly, bloggers, trade unionists and professors attended the rally to support the journalists, who said that the government never sought their input before naming the new media bosses.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali last Saturday appointed new editors-in-chief of official news outlets, including TAP and several television channels.
Amnesty International on Monday described the move as a grave indication of violation of freedom of expression after a popular revolt toppled the dictator.
Jebali had earlier criticised the Tunisian press, saying that the media had not lived up to the aspirations of the majority winner in the elections. Activists and journalists decried the statement, insisting that the media cannot be the property of the majority but a public institution.
Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol, the ruling Ennahda party’s coalition partners, also condemned the move, which they said had taken place without their consultation. They explained that some of the appointees were known for their loyalty to the former regime.
Mohamed Taieb Youssefi was named to lead TAP, while Mohamed Nejib Ouerghi was picked as head of La Presse and Essahafa. Journalists Sadok Bouabbene and Imene Bahroun were appointed as chiefs of two state TV channels.
According to National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) chief Nejiba Hamrouni, the decisions will be rescinded if any of the appointees are proven to have been involved with the Ben Ali regime.
The agreement was reached at the SNJT meeting with Abdul Razzaq al-Kilani, the minister in charge of communicating with the Constituent Assembly, and Communication Minister Reda Al Kazdaghli, she told Magharebia.
“If the government backs out of its promises, we do not rule out implementation of a general strike in the media sector,” Hamrouni warned.
Meanwhile, the interim government vowed to hold periodic meetings with the union in the interest of journalists and apply the principle of elections within media outlets.
The appointments were meant to fill the gap in media organisations while awaiting results of the elections, al-Kilani commented.
For Tunisian citizens and journalists, freedom of speech is one of the most precious gains of the revolution that they are determined to protect.
“The battle of journalists today is the most important and most dangerous battle, and if journalists do not hold fast to their position, it means good-bye to the Tunisian press and we will go backwards,” Adel Masoud told Magharebia.
“We must invest this great interest in reforming the media from all civil society and political components to carry out deep reforms in the Tunisian media and to purify the sector,” young journalist Ridha Tamem.
Tunisian media has been targeted by “some sides trying to cloak the truth with falsehood by asserting that the media after the revolution is anti-revolutionary”, according to journalist Walid Ahmed Ferchichi
“It is true that media deviations exist,” he conceded. “It is also true that our media did not quite live up to the aspirations of the Tunisian people. But today no one could question the qualitative leap achieved by the Tunisian media.”
For his part, Salah Tizawa told Magharebia, “We want a free, responsible media and all those concerned with it are mistaken and should keep quiet and leave the young people to act, leave those who believe in the media revolution.”
“No to going back, no to favouritism, no to worn-out pens accustomed to flattery,” he said.