On 20 April, on the orders of the Prime Minister, Mohamed Meddeb replaces Habib Belaid as the head of national radio. Fourth months later, on 17 August, Prime Minister Jebali dismisses Adnen Khedhr and places Imen Bahroun at the head of Tunisia’s public television network. These appointments are illegal. According to Sami Ben Abdurrahman, judge at the administrative court:

the appointments of the new directors at public broadcasting organisations are illegal. Article 19 of Decree-Law 2011-116 of 2 November 2011 stipulates that such appointments must be made in full consultation with the High Authority for Audovisual Communications (HAICA).

To be clear, Decree-Law 116 abrogates the previous law of 2007 which Jebali’s government are continuing, incorrectly, to use. Regarding the apparent “suspension” of this decree-law, the administrative court judge has this to say:

Some will claim that this decree-law is not yet active. [But] in the justice system there is no such thing as an activated or deactivated law. Once a law is published in the Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic (JORT), the law becomes active and can be used in cases relating to citizens and public authorities.

Ennahda sympathisers will defend the government’s actions on the basis of the need for reform. They deem it necessary to change the heads of these public institutions in order to clean up the media sector. Having stated several times that no file would be opened on the political police or journalists working for the former regime, Lotfi Zitoun has finally changed tack. For three weeks now, wherever he goes, he threatens to publish a black list of journalists. On Friday 31 August, next to the First Ministry, now surrounded by a large black and white partition and some plants, strategically placed to hide the barbed wire from view of any guests, Zitoun, armed with a megaphone, proclaimed to the assembled supporters of his party:

You are the Revolution, you are the future, we will never go back, no to a return to corrupt days of old, to the criminals, this protest is to demonstrate our break with the past, you can be confident that the Jebali government will realise the promises and goals of the Revolution. All these promises will soon be realised, before the next elections inshallah.

Nevertheless, the reality of the situation is quite far removed from such rhetoric. In order fully to understand these illegal nominations, one must survey the major developments in media reform which was has been hindered by various actors, whether they be former supporters of the Ben Ali regime, members of Jebali’s government or activists from civil society groupings.

The government of Jebali, for its part, has continued to use the abrogated 2007 law in place of the new Decree-Laws 115-6. As a result, the creation of the HAICA, a body in charge of regulating broadcast media, has been blocked. The First Ministry cites, as reason for this hold-up, the refusal on the part of the Tunisian Union of Media Directors (STDM) to accept these decree-laws.

With regard to the influence of former supporters of Ben Ali, Mustapha Ben Letaief, a teacher of Public Law in Tunis and a member of the High Authority for the Realisation of the High Authority for Realisation of the Objectives of the Revolution (HIROR) which contributed to the formulation of Decree-Law 116, explains that:

The lobby group of two private television channels (Arbi Nasra’s Hannibal TV and Nessma TV of Nabil Karoui who is also a member of the STDM), complained of not having been consulted. In fact, these channels had been excluded from the process since previously they had supported calls for Ben Ali to stand in 2014.

Meanwhile, the man who claims he wants to clean up the media sector by publishing a black list of journalists, Lotfi Zitoun – political adviser to the First Ministry, organised, on 27 April, alongside (and this really is quite absurd) the notorious police informer and propagandist Mohamed Hamdane and Justice Minister Nourreddine Bhiri, a national consultation on the media. Because of this scandal, the consultation was roundly criticised by civil society groups, including the UGTT, SNJT and INRIC.

When it comes to civil society, although they have played a very important role in denying supporters of the former regime a role in media reform, it seems, as a whole, lacking in resources and clear strategy.

Since the fall of Ben Ali, the SNJT, INRIC and UGTT have had so many challenges to face up to and have had to fight so hard to bring justice to the corrupt propagandists and censors of the former regime. This huge workload means they are forced to fight their battle on several fronts which, in the absence of a coherent plan of action, means a lot energy is expended for little gain. Indeed, it is important to note that although these executive appointments at national broadcasting organisations are wholly illegal and Decree-Law 116 has been contravened by the Prime Minister himself, not one civil society grouping, and that includes the SNJT, has laid charges at the administrative court.

And so, for the umpteenth time, civil society is at fault for contributing indirectly to this legal void by not engaging in proper legal process. Instead of making use of the legal mechanisms in place, in particular the administrative court, we continue to protest, something which will only ever provide a temporary solution to a problem that requires the full involvement of the justice system.

Translated from french by Christopher Barrie

You can also read (in french) :


Liberté de la presse : les décrets 115 et 116, des décrets morts-nés ?

Tunisie : Les obstacles à la liberté de la presse

Mohamed Hamdane, propagandiste et indicateur de Abdelwaheb Abadallah

Conférence de l’INRIC : L’indépendance des médias est en danger

Manque de transparence dans la nomination des directeurs des radios publiques