State of the media



Human rights organizations strongly criticized the United Nations for choosing Tunisia to host the World Summit for Information Society (WSIS) on 16-18 November 2005. Tunisia has a terrible record for curtailing basic freedoms and freedom of expression.

 

Written press

There are at least 8 daily newspapers and fifteen weeklies being published in Tunisia. One of the most important dailies is Al-Sabah (pro-government). There are also several privately-run newspapers and magazines, including two opposition party journals, Al-Mawfiq and Al-Tariq Al-jadid. However these, and many foreign publications are subject to censorship, and editions of foreign newspapers, including French and pan-Arab publications, are regularly seized. Diversity of analysis and views are rare in Tunisian press.

 

There are some unauthorized media initiatives that are critical of the government. These include Kaws al Karama, Kalima (formerly supported by IMS), and Alternatives Citoyennes.

 

Audiovisual media

The state-run Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT) runs two national TV channels and several radio networks. Until November 2003 the state had a monopoly on radio broadcasting and private channels were only available via satellite transmission. The use of satellite dishes is widespread and Egyptian and pan-Arab stations command large audiences. Two London-based opposition TV channels, Al Mustaqillah TV and Zeitouna TV, can be received in Tunisia. Also the satellite television program of the En-Nahda Islamic party is popular.

 

The first audiovisual licenses to the private sector was signed during 2004, one to the television channel, Hannibal TV and one to the radio station, Radio Mosaique. Pluralism and diversity is non-existent within Tunisian television and radio. The television and radio domestic news are directly taken from the official Tunisian news agency.

 

Online media

The Internet entered Tunisian in 1991, making it the first Arab and African country to be connected. The number of users has now reached 1,148 million.  However, the Internet was became widely used in only from 1996, when the Tunisian Agency for Internet was established to administer and market internet services and technology. Tunisia is infamous for being the first Arab country standing against the freedom of internet. According to the government, all the country now has access to the Internet and it is possible to subscribe to its different services via 12 providers, these include 7 providers that provide to public institutions and agencies, and 5 private companies providing the service to the wider market. The Tunisian Agency for the Internet is the main provider, connecting all internet providing companies to the Internet. This means that the agency is able to monitor any exchange of information. In addition, two of the service provider companies are headed by relatives of the Tunisian president.

 

A study presented to the WSIS stated that 10% of 2,000 websites tested by the researchers are blocked in Tunisia; most of these are political, opposition, human rights, or pornographic websites

 

The five Tunisian daily newspapers La Presse, Al-Horria, Nouvelles de Tunisie, Assabah and Le Quotidien are running versions online. The Tunisian Radio broadcasts online. Certain news sites such as Kalima and TUNeZINE are blocked by the authorities. Tunisia has the most detailed Internet legislation in the region. The State interferes with the Internet in various ways, including not being able to get an account, termination of an account without explanation, government monitoring of email and blocking of web sites.

 

News agencies

The state is running the Tunisian news agency.

 

Media organizations

The Association des Journalistes Tunsiens is a government-approved union. In late 2003 the association awarded President Ben Ali with its Golden Pen of Press Freedom. It receives subsidies from the government and many of its executive members tow the government line. The Association was expelled from the World Association of Newspapers in 1997, the International Federation of Journalists has suspended its full membership.

 

During 2004 a new journalist association was created, Syndicat des Journalistes

Tunisiens. SJT has become an associate member of the International Federation of Journalists.

 

Media policies

The Tunisian constitution guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, but the government tightly controls and restricts the media by laws and regulations. The first press law 1975, with its amendments 1988, 1993 and 2001 regulates the press. Publications are prohibited to publish information considered leading to disturbance of public order. Defamation of the president, public order, the courts, the armies, official entities, public administration and an individual is not allowed. Punishment is ranging from 16 days up to 5 years imprisonment and possibilities of fines. Editions of foreign newspapers (French and pan-Arab) are regularly seized.

 

Tunisia has a detailed Internet legislation and censors the Internet. There are restrictions and practical problems in getting accounts, government monitoring emails and blocking websites, especially political and human rights web sites. A police unit was set up 2002 to monitor Internet. Through the Tunisian Agency for External Communication the government controls the government-advertising funds to newspapers and periodicals.