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Home > Country focus > Tunisia > Tunisia to form new media regulatory body after months of delay

Tunisia to form new media regulatory body after months of delay

Saturday 4 May 2013, by Middle East Online

TUNIS - On International Press Freedom Day, and after 17 months of delay, the Tunisian presidency is to designate members of a new regulatory body for audiovisual media.

The presidency announced that it accepted nominations for the two seats on the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) allotted to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT). The nominees are Hichem Snoussi and Rachida Neifer.

The creation of the HAICA was called for in a November 2011 law. The statute calls for a nine-person body consisting of five members representing the three branches of the Tunisian government, two members representing the SNTJ, and one member from a union representing the audiovisual communications industry.

The HAICA will be tasked with regulating the Tunisian media sector, supervising the media during electoral campaigns, and nominating directors of public radio and television stations. Service on the HAICA would be a full-time job, and members would be appointed to six-year terms.

A media expert and former member of the National Authority for Information and Communication Reform (INRIC), Hichem Snoussi, confirmed the news of his nomination and highlighted the importance of this step in improving the situation of media in post-revolution Tunisia.

Snoussi said that the Civil Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression was influential in breaking the long-standing deadlock in forming the HAICA.

The coalition, which includes the Tunisia League of Human Rights, the Association of Tunisian Judges, and the SNJT, put pressure on government officials who had repeatedly rejected nominations of HAICA members.

The INRIC was created shortly after the January 2011 revolution and has advocated for the passage and implementation of two laws providing for oversight of the Tunisian media.

One of these is the law creating the HAICA, and the other promotes press freedom and protection of journalists’ sources.

Tensions between the government and the INRIC delayed the HAICA’s formation.

In March, the body accused the office of President Moncef Marzouki of “prevarication and delaying tactics.”

“Two years on, the immediate and obvious gain of the revolution is freedom of expression. However, the conflict has been about how to deal with that freedom,” Snoussi said.

While some people considered post-revolution freedom of expression chaotic, others called on creating relevant boards to regulate it, said Snoussi.

Along with the HAICA, which will oversee the audiovisual media sector, a press council is to be created to govern print media as well.

“Forming the HAICA will hopefully defuse the tension created by ignoring the two decrees for a long time,” Snoussi said.

Secretary General of the SNJT, Monji Khadraoui, expressed optimism over the presidency’s acceptance of the Snoussi and Neifer nominations.

“Journalists and human rights activists must continue fighting for this freedom of expression. We shouldn’t stop the liberation process,” he said.

Snoussi criticized the third and final draft of Tunisia’s new constitution, which was completed late last month. It is not compatible with international legal frameworks for freedom of expression, he noted.

Many recent international reports have criticized the situation of press freedom in Tunisia. The US State Department issued a report on human rights in Tunisia on April 19.

The report was highly critical of legal actions taken against several Tunisian journalists based on old laws, such as Ghazi Mabrouk, who was charged with criminal defamation.

Several journalists complain that they are still coming under political pressure to control what they say or write. They accuse the Islamist-led government of seeking to take control of media.

Earlier last year, Ennahda stepped up its coordinated attack on public media, describing it as "hostile", "corrupt" and "biased" in favour of the left-wing and the remnants of Ben Ali’s regime.

Ennahda leader, Rached Ghannouchi, accused public media as being "hostile to Ennahda and the government," claiming that media have been "magnifying the negative aspects, obscuring facts and dimming all what is positive."

He charged that most of the public media is "corrupt", accusing the national television of being "in the service of a certain ideological tendencies that are hostile to the revolution and Ennahda."

He threatened journalists with the "privatization" of the media sector.

Ghannouchi’s remarks triggered widespread discontent among journalists and media workers who fought to defend the objectives of the revolution, particularly the freedom of the press.

SOURCE: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=58526

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