By Houda Trabelsi
A number of Tunisian reporters and rights defenders called on the interim government to expedite the issuance of regulations protecting free press and audiovisual communications.
They also pressed for creating an independent High Authority of Audiovisual Communication and adding press freedom to the constitution.
“Intensified discussions, seminars and meetings that took place over the past year resulted in laws, which journalists are eagerly waiting to see activated,” national radio reporter Bouthaina Guiaa said.
Media figure Abd Elmalek Ben Rabeh urged the Constituent Assembly members “to make sure every care has been taken to include the principle of freedom of expression, especially the independence of public media, in the new constitution”.
“Ensuring the independence of public media requires a number of legal and regulatory conditions that cannot be overlooked,” Kamel Labidi, head of the National Authority for Reform of Information and Communication (INRIC), said at a BBC seminar held February 9th in Tunis. “The legal grounds are inadequate, if not supported by real political will from all parties in order to respect that independence.”
In a message to the Tunisian president, the prime minister and the Constituent Assembly president, the INRIC outlined 14 recommendations to salvage the media sector from its present deterioration. Among the most important of them is enforcing legal provisions on freedom of the press.
In response to media inquiries, Ridha Kazdaghli, in charge of media affairs in the Tunisian government, explained that “the government cannot present a working paper on legal and institutional guarantees for the development of public media”. She added that “dialogue and methodological thinking are the essential foundations, not exclusion”.
“The government does not take orders from anyone and it has no intention of backing out on its fundamental commitments,” she said, underlining the government’s intention to activate those decrees.
The heads of several Tunisian public media institutions had varied reactions on the issue.
“There are many priorities during this period, the most important of which is ensuring the independence of the media from political, financial, ideological and other powers,” Habib Belaid, Director-General of the Tunisian Radio, confirmed. “That can only be achieved through resurrecting the independent National Authority for Reform of Information and Communication, along with the need for constitutionalising media independence.”
“The Tunisian public media, the largest employer of accredited Tunisian journalists, proved capable of interacting positively with all the changes, through actually changing from being state-owned media to liberated public media that was able to reconcile, even to a certain extent, with the public through boldly discussing topics,” noted Najib Ouerghi, director of state-owned La Presse.
Adnen Khedr, director of state-run Al Wataniya television station, said, “After the revolution, we tried to change by having the public television serve taxpayers, after years of serving the president and his family. During that attempt at change, there were errors, but that is only natural during this period of transition.”
“The conflict over the media is a positive thing in this particular period,” BBC Regional Director Najla Omari told Magharebia. “This is the biggest proof that Tunisian media is well on its way toward reform and emancipation. Tunisian media, particularly public media, can lead the media across the Arab world, just as Tunisia led the Arab spring.”